Latest Phone Rumors: Facebook Staffing Up

By David Cohen 

Hold the phone: Like a persistent telemarketer, rumors of a Facebook phone keep calling back, and the latest reports say the social network’s goal is to release its own smartphone by 2013.

The New York TimesBits blog reported that tidbit based on comments by Facebook employees, engineers who have been recruited by the company, and other sources, with one source telling Bits Facebook has already added “more than a half-dozen” engineers who worked on Apple’s iPhone, as well as one who worked on the iPad.

It was widely reported last year that Facebook and HTC were working on a smartphone under the code name “Buffy,” and Bits reported that Facebook has expanded the Buffy team, as well as exploring other smartphone projects.

A former Apple engineer who worked on the iPhone told Bits he met with Facebook Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and was “peppered” by questions about the inner workings of smartphones, including the types of chips used.

However, Hugo Fiennes, a former Apple hardware manager for the first four iPhones who is starting new hardware company Electric Imp, told Bits:

Building isn’t something you can just jump into. You change the smallest thing on a smartphone, and you can completely change how all the antennas work. You don’t learn this unless you’ve been doing it for a while. Going into the phone business is incredibly complex.

And Bits also pointed out the failures of hardware-centric companies that tried to enter the mobile phone arena, including Sony, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard.

Facebook has apparently found that out on its own, as one employee of the social network told Bits the smartphone project has been “rebooted” several times because Facebook originally assumed it would be able to figure out the hardware end on its own, and it is now hiring engineers with experience in the field.

Another potential solution suggested by Bits: Facebook could use some of the $16 billion it made from its initial public offering to target an existing manufacturer of smartphones, such as struggling BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, which is currently valued at less than $6 billion. Bits added that HTC is currently valued at some $11.8 billion.

Facebook’s response to Bits was to point to comments it made to AllThingsD when it reported on Buffy last year, saying:

We’re working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers.

Readers: Do you think Facebook should continue to pursue its own smartphone?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.