Buffy the Facebook Phone and the Walmartization of the Web

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Facebook's new phone is just one more step in the big box phase of the internet.

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Reuters

This week, the tech world caught word of a phone named "Buffy."

AllThingsD broke the news that Facebook has signed a deal with Taiwan's HTC to produce a new smartphone that will deeply integrate the social network into its platform. After a few years of treading lightly in the mobile space, Mark Zuckerberg and Co. are all-in.

The codename "Buffy," of course, is a reference to a certain much beloved vampire slayer. Facebook's aiming its stake at the web's biggest players--Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. As I wrote last week, these tech giants are competing with each other today, and in the process they're starting to look more like virtual big box stores. The same way that Walmart puts all your shopping needs behind one door, Apple wants you to buy one iPhone and spend all your time in its virtual app world. Google's the same way. To compete, Facebook needs a piece of hardware.

"Buffy" will run on a version of Google's open-source Android operating system, which Facebook has heavily tweaked to better incorporate its own services. AllThingsD has written that by choosing to make such significant changes to Android, Facebook might not be able to use many of Google's services. That could force Facebook to find partners other than Google for services such as media players and an app store. I think Facebook sees that as a feature, not a bug. If it is going through the trouble of creating its own mobile product, it will want control over as much of the user experience as possible. Target and Walmart make sure their customers can pick up the hottest new video game along with linens and furniture. I'm sure Facebook will want to have its own media options on its phone (it already has a deal with the music app Spotify) and eventually its tablet.

Well, they haven't announced the tablet yet. But if they're going the mobile route, it would seem like a logical next move. Over at Forbes, Tero Kuittinen is making a similar prediction for Amazon, which has already attacking the tablet space with the Kindle Fire.

Many consumers are looking for ecosystems when they purchase smartphones. After Amazon manages to suck in perhaps 12-15 M tablet buyers by June, it is likely to launch a cheap smartphone to complement the Kindle range. This could easily be subsidized to $0.01, even with a 5 megapixel camera, 4 inch AMOLED touch screen and LTE support.

Why not? The more storefronts, the merrier. Worked for Walmart, didn't it? 

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Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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