Facebook once again rumored to be making a phone, this time with iPhone talent

The only thing surprising about rumors that Facebook is once again working on their own smartphone is that they're still rumors -- that Facebook is taking so long to figure out a strategy and execute on it. Now The New York Times is saying they're trying again, and they're doing it with iPhone talent.

The company has already hired more than half a dozen former Apple software and hardware engineers who worked on the iPhone, and one who worked on the iPad, the employees and those briefed on the plans said.

Previous attempts at an Android-based phone, rumored to have begun after they hired Android lead Eric Tseng away from Google, seem to have fizzled, and work with HTC never seemed to get anywhere beyond an awkward blue button on even more awkward phones. Now they're reportedly working towards a 2013 release, and doing it by building out their "Buffy" group.

One engineer who formerly worked at Apple and worked on the iPhone said he met with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, who then peppered him with questions about the inner workings of smartphones. It did not sound like idle intellectual curiosity, the engineer said; Mr. Zuckerberg asked about intricate details, including the types of chips used, he said. Another former Apple hardware engineer was recruited by a Facebook executive and was told about the company’s hardware explorations.

Mobile is the platform for the immediate future. Apple transition to it with brutally elegant efficiency in 2007 with the iPhone. Google pulled an about-face on messenger phones and went all-in on iPhone-style phones with Android shortly thereafter. Palm, Microsoft, and BlackBerry-maker RIM have struggled, and either faltered, just started getting on track, or hope to field competitive offerings later this year. Even Amazon has dipped their foot into the mobile water with the Kindle line.

Facebook is the only big player missing from the game. While they are, and likely will continue to, offer apps and integration on other platforms, owning a platform can provide security and opportunity in such a rapidly accelerating market. Just ask Google.

“Mark is worried that if he doesn’t create a mobile phone in the near future that Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms,” a Facebook employee said.

Facebook's Android initiative might have failed because hardware is tough for a software company. Their HTC initiative might have fizzled because partnering splits control. Hiring their own hardware engineers, especially those experienced with Apple and the iPhone, could make a completely Facebook realized smartphone a reality.

And if that fails, the New York Times points out, there's always the option to buy HTC... or BlackBerry.

A Facebook phone could be an interesting challenge for Apple, given their user base, but also for Google (and their new Motorola acquisition), and for Microsoft who's still struggling to secure Windows Phone as the third option.

They've bought Instagram, they've made apps, they own the social graph.

It will be interesting to see how they pull all the pieces together, and what they can bring to market.

Source: The New York Times