The Facebook Phones That Were Never Great


As of the fourth quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.86 billion active users. Of those, 1.74 billion access the world’s largest social network from their mobile devices. So what has Facebook been doing about mobile users? A lot!

The company recognized the key role that mobile devices were going to play in helping connect the world very early on. It’s why it invested heavily in making sure we had a functional Android app (the app that was there around 2012 was too horrible). It’s why it acquired Snaptu and we got Facebook for Every Phone as a result. It’s why we now apps targeted at those in low bandwidth areas and those who have no use for the main Facebook app.

There’s something else that Facebook tried its hand at once upon a time: phones! Yes, Facebook wanted you to buy Facebook phones so it partnered with some device makers to be able to bring to the market devices that had the Facebook experience front and centre. Since you no longer hear of the Facebook phones, there’s no doubt that they failed to pick up because they vanished as soon as they appeared on the scene. Here are 3 phones that Facebook once hoped to dominate the world with:

1. HTC ChaCha

Facebook’s dilly-dallying with a phone geared towards giving its users a one-tap access to the news feed started way back in 2011 with two brand new devices from HTC. The Chacha was one of them. It was your traditional QWERTY Android smartphone but with one awkwardly placed Facebook button at the bottom that provided instant (well, that’s arguable) access to Facebook.

2. HTC Salsa

While the HTC ChaCha had a physical keyboard, the Salsa, its sibling, was a full touch screen device whose device was based on a popular HTC device of that time, the HTC Legend. The only similarity with the ChaCha other than being announced at the same time at MWC 2011? It had an awkwardly-placed Facebook button at the bottom of the screen as well. You know, just incase users got tired of interacting with the device on-screen and needed a Facebook speed dial.

3. HTC First

While Facebook never took a front row seat with the HTC Salsa and the HTC ChaCha, it was all over the HTC First, the “first true Facebook phone”. However, just like the Salsa and the ChaCha before it, the HTC First was a big fail!

The HTC First had another Facebook product geared towards driving its users to consume more content from Facebook and interact with their friends on the social network: Facebook Home. Do you remember it?

Facebook abandoned Home a long time ago. The app was last updated on the Play Store 3 years ago. While I liked Facebook Home when I tried it out on the Galaxy S4, the only outstanding feature and one I love todate (I use YAATA SMS just because of a similar implementation) was Chat Heads, those little circular pop ups that you today associate with Facebook Messenger alerts.

HTC First was never shown any love at first and it never had it through to the end. TIME Magazine listed it as one of the “lamest moments of the year 2013” and ReadWriteWeb listed it as one of the “top 10 tech failures of the year (2013)”. Enough said.

While those 3 HTC devices are the closest we have ever come to having a Facebook phone, it doesn’t mean they were the only ones. African smartphone brand Mi-Fone had several mobile phones that had Facebook buttons that actually worked well.

It is unlikely that Facebook would want to walk this route ever again but never say never. The company bought Oculus, the virtual reality company behind products such as the Rift and the Samsung Gear VR and there is every indicator that it intends to be a big player in mixed (augmented and virtual) reality since competitors like Snap are already taking that route. With the intersection of technology happening so fast, we may not have to wait for so long before something interesting pitting Facebook and the phones we love so much happens again even though I am still of the opinion that they need to fix their app as it is such a battery guzzler.