Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke with Fortune Senior Writer Jessi Hempel last week, one week before the social network’s introduction of its Home overlay for Android phones, saying of Facebook’s earlier mobile efforts, “We were just kind of really behind in terms of the quality level we wanted to be providing.”
Following are more excerpts from Zuckerberg’s conversation with Hempel:
We also had a series of longer-term projects, which was what we thought Facebook should be on mobile. We’re about to go into this third phase, which is on Android and, at some point, (Apple’s) iOS. The experiences don’t look like the desktop website that we spent the first five years of the company only developing without doing any mobile development. Everyone has been asking us for years, “Are you going to build a phone?” And we’re like, “No, we’re not going to build a phone.” And then everyone’s like, “Well, are you going to build an operating system?” And it’s like, “No, we’re not going to do that, either.”
If you build a phone and it goes well, it sells low tens of millions of units. I mean, we serve 1 billion people. So even if we built a phone and 30 million people bought it, which would be a wild success, that would be 3 percent of the people we serve. We are not going to totally rotate our company to build something that is only going to help out 3 percent of our people in a good case.
The other kind of option is to build an application. We’re obviously going to do that. We have an app, and it’s on the vast majority of phones and, according to comScore and these firms, more than 20 percent of time that is spent in an app is on Facebook. And then on top of that, more than one-half of the top-grossing apps in the App Store are connected to Facebook. So it’s also a platform. But it’s not an operating system. It’s not running code. It’s a platform. It’s deeper in the experience.
Our basic approach has been: Let’s figure out how rich of an experience we can build that spans not just building an app, but gets as deep into the system as we want.
I’m not sure how (Google is) going to react. We’re building this as software that you can download onto phones. One of the nits about Android is that the software (on each phone model) is a little different, so it took some work to make it work on every given phone. So to start, we are only going to support downloads on five or six phones. I think that Google has this opportunity in the next year or two to start doing the things that are way better than what can be done on iPhone through the openness of its platform. We’d love to offer this on iPhone, and we just can’t today. And we will work with Apple to do the best experience that we can, within what they want, but I think that a lot of people who really like Facebook — and just judging from the numbers, people are spending one-fifth of their time in phones on Facebook, that’s a lot of people — this could really tip things in that direction. We’ll have to see how it plays out.