FUBAR the Amazing Facebook Faceplant Phone

By Rob Enderle May 30, 2012

Yes, apparently Mark Zuckerberg, who is currently having great success with his advertising customers, has looked over at Apple and thought; “gee we should have our own Smartphone” and is exploring buying a company like Opera to get it done. Their mobile strategy apparently wasn’t working out, so he must have figured it is because the iPhone and Android phones suck and Facebook, which is neither hardware nor an OS company, can obviously do a better job. I mean look at Microsoft, they followed a similar path (and they are an OS company) to create the amazingly successful Zune MP3 player and Kin phone. Two products that were so successful they dominate the category of “dumb, stupid products”.  

So Facebook, who like Netscape, can’t seem to figure out that their second act should likely be focused on assuring the revenue of their first act, is off to do what we may eventually call the Facebook Smartphone Faceplant, or the Facebook Universal Bad Ass Ringer or FUBAR. Yep that’s the ticket; we should call this the FUBAR Phone.  

Let’s explore this phone this week as we realize I’ll likely not be on the short list of folks asked to name this phone.   

Facebook’s FUBAR Phone

Now ideally if you wanted to build a phone and chase after a market dominated by Apple and Google, that is currently buried in litigation largely between Apple, Google, and Microsoft, the only company you might consider buying is RIM (who is apparently trying to get Samsun go buy them). This would at least give you a core set of skills, a decent patent portfolio to defend what you brought to market and a platform that has already had some success in the targets markets.    

Granted the company is in Canada and both distance and culture would make the acquisition unlikely to succeed, but at least you’d have the parts you’d need to bring a phone to market. Instead it appears Facebook is looking at Opera, a firm that builds browsers mostly for mobile devices.

This would be like going into the car business with the idea of building a car and buying an automotive controls business first. Typically you’d want to buy a core set of phone skills first and they would then decide on what technologies they needed to ensure the easiest path for integration and to assure that the choice wouldn’t have to be undone. But that would be too easy and efficient, why not do it backwards and raise the degree of difficulty to astronomical levels? That is so much more fun for soon to be laid off employees and pissed off investors. 

The FUBAR Browser

Now we do have a habit of getting a bit ahead of ourselves and maybe, just maybe, Zuckerberg has looked at the fantastic success of the Kin phone and Zune MP3 player and said: “even I’m not THAT stupid” and instead is going to do a Facebook browser. Apple has a browser, Google has a browser, and Microsoft has a browser, how difficult could it be, particularly if you buy a browser company? And Opera has been successful on mobile, or at least they were until both Microsoft and Google started focusing on bringing their mobile browsers into this decade.  Now each of the platform vendors has, or shortly will have, a state of the art browser on their phones and they own their platforms.   

Why not just do a killer Facebook app rather than a full browser? Once again because that would be too easy and it wouldn’t piss off the three most powerful companies in technology, one of which is an investor and was, at least before Zuckerberg started thinking about phones and browsers, a key backer (Microsoft).   

But at least this approach would be a smaller hole to burn money in, suggesting you might keep from going broke for a couple more years.  By then Zukerberg might actually have his personal plane and yacht paid off and be in line for his next career as a VC.   

Wrapping Up: FUBAR

There is a common pattern with .Com companies that are initially very successful from an idea someone had in school. Folks initially start wondering if that idea was theirs and they are in a panic to find that next big idea so they do what a lot of students unfortunately do in school, they look to copy from someone else that is successful. Netscape copied Microsoft unsuccessfully; Facebook appears to be doing the same thing with Apple.   

In the end, instead of seeking to conceal the fact that they either never really were the wonder child folks thought they were, or that success was largely just luck and timing, maybe it would be wiser to focus initially on what they know, bring on board experts they will listen to, expand existing markets and secure their income, and find success the good old fashioned way with a good business plan.  And, if you are going to do acquisitions, bring on board someone who is good at doing acquisitions, like Dell did rather than learn by doing or shopping for companies like you might buy a car (Instagram).  

But it is so much more fun to have layoff, downsizings, and the other trappings of learning by doing. I mean everyone wants to be the next Netscape right?   It appears that Facebook with their FUBAR phone is unfortunately leading in that race.   

Edited by Brooke Neuman

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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