Why an actual Facebook phone could kick ass (with mockups)


The question if Facebook will start producing it's own mobile OS on top of Android made a huge buzz a few months ago. Technology authorities such as TechCrunch and Mashable gave us diametrical coverage about it, the first claiming the rumor is true, and the second denying it. Needless to say the mobile market is one of the fastest evolving. Since 2007, when Apple supposedly revolutionized the mobile telephone by introducing the first popular tablet smartphone without a keyboard with an app market, things didn't change much, but in 2011, Facebook has a great chance to reinvent the phone again.

Today, the world is "going social". The transition to 2.0 has touched most aspects of our lives and heavily influenced software development, some companies are introducing social browsers, and others such as Neolab are trying to put social into enterprise IT. But the most social device of them all, the mobile telephone, despite high competition and increasing hardware and software capabilities, was left behind. Sure, the social potential in mobile contacts was noticed, but we haven't seen it happen yet. So, if Facebook actually gives this thing a try, could we finally see a real social phone?

One of the biggest problems with today's mobile operating systems and their user experience is that they are still built around services rather than around people (contacts). You have your app for calling, your app for messages, your app for mails, apps for different social networks. Different channels with enclosed streams rather than one giant stream that would display all the communication and interactions with a specific person. Android and Windows 7 Phone did enable Facebook contacts syncing with direct links to profiles and some integration, and there are third-party apps that are trying to achieve this (SocialPhone, Phonebook 2.0). Nevertheless, I still made some mockups of my own about how I envision the social phone OS of the future (since I'm more aquainted with the iOS, I worked on that), something that is destined to happen one way or another.

User stream

The most important feature I miss about the current generation of smartphone operating systems is the complete stream of activity and interactions from a single person. All classic mobile services (call, message, mail, calendar, ...), combined with social services (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, ...) in a single feed. Here's a mockup of how this could look, the icon represents the service, the arrow represents the direction (in case of public posts, which are not between two people, there is no arrow, since it's an action without target instead of a reaction). All services are intended for communication, so why are they kept separated and treated differently?

Facebook Phone, User Stream

Single user stream, displaying information from different sources and services. Similar features already exist in some apps.

The contacts

Now that we have an integrated repository of all our social interactions with a single user, we could reinvent the address book. Each action could have it's weight (e.g. a Call would be much stronger than a Twitter reply), and the occurrence of social interactions with a user in recent time period could determine the probability of needing that specific contact (an upgrade to "recently contacted", available today). To make things even more useful, users could set the preferred time period using a slider. Those who have seen how sexy iPhone icons behave while being rearranged, can probably imagine the fancy shuffle of profile pictures upon this activity.

Facebook Phone, Contact Grid

Contact grid, where people are recommended based on the number of social interactions in a specific time period.

The activity log

To top it off, I've made a mockup of the complete activity log, which could combine all owner's social activities together with the interactions on a mobile device and other services. Again, the icons represent the public actions (shown with a service logo) and the interactions (shown with a profile picture), together with the direction of the reaction. This blog does something similar, combining different social activities into an unified stream, but it's still mostly one way - my posts on different social services. But combining one way posts with two way actions/reactions/interactions could provide the component that could actually make the phone capable of portraying the most perfect social stream of its owner. Specially since regular phone activities, such as calls and messages are as social as you can go, but they exists only on the device and the carrier.

Facebook Phone, Activity Log

Log of all user's activities on the phone and on different Web 2.0 networks.

These are just a few ideas, I've been thinking about trying to pack them in an app, but I really don't have the time to go for it, and similar ones are already available. I also think that this concept of a social phone should be built into the core of the OS, because the phone would need to be completely integrated with and authenticated into different Web 2.0 services (not only single apps). This would make these features available inside other apps, and setup and synchronization would require less hassle.

Facebook, the king of social, is currently the most perfect candidate (and perhaps the only one capable) to make something like this work, so I would really love to see it come alive. It's questionable if they would allow competition like Twitter or Foursquare inside it, but other software giants would surely need to follow the concept and in the end, make it right. I want a social phone!

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written 9.1.2011 20:28 CET on chronolog
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