Buffy the Facebook Phone Slays Rumors and Reputations

There’s an ongoing project that involves a phone maker, an operating software provider and a social networking site.  can you guess which companies these are?  Facebook is a no brainer, so who is the phone maker and the OS provider?  Facebook chose between Samsung and HTC, but opted for the latter.  As for the OS, HTC uses Android on their mobile devices, so it’s no surprise that the Facebook phone would run on the Android platform.  And because Android is open, Facebook has the freedom to fork the OS according to their whim without having to pay Google anything.  The project is dubbed as Project Buffy (yes, that Buffy).

It is said that the project has been in progress for two years now, but it is under new management, led by Facebook CTO Bret Taylor.

HTC and Facebook representatives have yet to comment, but HTC spokesperson told AllThingsD the following:

“Our mobile strategy is simple: We think every mobile device is better if it is deeply social. We’re working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers to bring powerful social experiences to more people around the world.”

The move for a Facebook phone is quite crucial since Google+ is more integrated into more Android devices, while Facebook is just an app on most devices that allows people to change their status, send messages, chat, upload photos, etc.  While Facebook has been winning on the web front, Google Android is steadily amassing its leverage power.  Both will need a tightly integrated mobile-web experience, and this is where Facebook needs to play catch up.

The Facebook Buffy phone will reportedly be available within 12 to 18 months, which, honestly, I think is too long.  A lot can happen in a month when it comes to mobile warp speed.   There’s a possibility that Facebook will have even more difficulty justifying a mobile handset by that time.

War Over Facebook Phone

The excitement of cracking a story like this has stirred up a side controversy all its own. MG Siegler, former TechCrunch writer, ranted on his blog that AllThingsD should have given credit for the Facebook phone story, since they broke the news on TC over a year ago.

Siegler stated, “The complete and utter lack of any link to or mention of TechCrunch even though we broke this story over a year ago.”  He goes on adding, “Do they have new information? Yes, namely the codename, “Buffy”, and the partnership with HTC. But it is the same project, as they even acknowledge: “Although it has changed scope and leadership, Buffy has been an ongoing area of concern at the social networking giant for the past two years.”

It’s a noted attention-seeking pattern for TechCrunch, as our own editor-in-chief Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins recalls a similar situation he experienced when breaking the gPhone story.

“This isn’t like the post I did at SiliconANGLE when I claimed to have first reported on the gPhone story and gotten the first pictures of the gPhone. That was photographic proof. I broke the story, and TC had linked me on the original post and later denied it,” Hopkins wrote.

“This is MG trying to twist a fake rumor he reported on a year ago into heavy legwork the good folks at AllThingsD did into nailing down this story.  MG’s done some solid work over the years, but he’s trying to prove his ear is still to the ground at a time when he’s drifting from relevance, because it will help his current business image as a “VC.”

But you don’t have to take Rizzn’s word for it.  If you take a closer look at the AllThingsD article, you’ll find it has a fresh perspective and additional information Siegler didn’t provide:

“About a year and a half ago, a Facebook mobile special ops team was formed, with its own building separate from the rest of the company. The workspace was accessible by keycard only to people intimately involved in the effort.”

This Facebook team was indeed trying to build a phone – really build a phone — much as Apple did, with integrated hardware and software.  But when the project became too big and too political and different from where it started, many of the people involved left the company or went on extended leaves of absence, and the effort was shelved.”