If all the leaks and rumors surrounding Thursday's Facebook event pan out, we can say with 99.9999 percent certainty that we'll see a new smartphone from the social media giant.
The leaked specs point toward an HTC-built device with ho-hum specs and a custom Facebook launcher running over Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. As underwhelming as the rumored hardware sounds, there's always the chance that Facebook will have a trick or two up its sleeve when it comes to the phone's software. And the social network is going to need to pull out all the stops if it hopes to compete against the likes of Apple and Samsung in the mobile space.
Here are a few things the Facebook phone needs if it doesn't want to face the same tepid response that greeted the last "Facebook phone", the HTC Status.
Kick-ass camera software
According to a February 2012 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by Facebook, an average of more than 250 million photos are uploaded to the social network every single day. (Seriously, why do you keep uploading so many photos of your kids?) While the Facebook phone's rumored 5-megapixel camera might not sound all that impressive, Facebook can help make up for the lack of megapixels by building in some awesome features for the phone's camera app. With most people taking photos on their smartphones, the ability to seamlessly take, edit, and upload those photos will be crucial if the Facebook phone hopes to avoid the discount bin.
One way Facebook could do this would be by making Instagram the default camera app. Instagram is one of the most widely used mobile photo apps in the world and it features a bevy of filters and editing tools that can help hide some of the camera's imperfections. And, because it's owned by Facebook, this version of Instagram could also have extra functionality not found on the standard iOS or Android versions.
Keep some Google in
If you're a regular user of Facebook on a desktop, you may have noticed that a number of the social network's features are powered by Microsoft Bing. Though Bing may have its advantages over Google Search, Bing's mapping services still pale in comparison to Google Maps. In the past, phone makers and carriers have tried stripping some of the built-in Google services and apps from Android--usually with disastrous results.
By leaving Google services such as Maps and Google Now intact, Facebook could push its phone as having all the benefits of a regular Android phone with extra goodies that make it more social.
Ad-Free for you and me
More than the constant interface changes, people really hate the intrusive nature of Facebook ads. You'll be browsing your newsfeed, silently judging your "friends," when all of a sudden an ad for some lame poker game assaults your senses (and your intelligence). This is particularly problematic on the Facebook app, where it seems like every other post on your newsfeed is an invite to download a Words With Friends rip-off or someone trying to sell you 12 pounds of bacon. It's hard to fault Facebook for trying to make money, and we can somewhat forgive its aggressive marketing tactics on a desktop. But unless all those ads are somehow going to make the Facebook phone more affordable they should probably be kept as far away from the handset as possible. Speaking of which....
Priced to move
It's getting harder and harder to convince people to drop several hundred dollars on a new smartphone, especially one that doesn't have the word "Galaxy" in its name. Even Nokia's top-of-the-line Lumia 920 was priced for considerably less than its competitors when it was first released here in the States. The previous "Facebook phone," the HTC Status, launched on AT&T to the tune of $50 on contract--but that budget friendly price-tag was not enough to distract people from the phone's various shortcomings.
The rumored specs of the Facebook phone paint a picture of a largely unimpressive handset, but a sub-$100 price point would make it easier to look past the device's flaws and would also make the phone more appealing to people buying a smartphone on a budget.
One of the biggest traps phone makers fall into when launching a new product is limiting it to certain regions or carriers. Phones available on a single carrier don't tend to do as well as ones released on multiple carriers. (And yes, I recognize the iPhone is a very big exception to that rule.) People don't tend to pick their wireless carrier based on what phones are available, but rather on who has the best prices and coverage in their area.
For the Facebook phone to sell well, the company needs to adopt Samsung's carpet-bombing strategy and launch the phone on as many carriers as it can. By making the phone widely available, Facebook ups the chances of getting the phone into the hands of as many people as possible. Combine that with an attractive price, and you have a phone that stands a chance against the unending horde of iOS, Android, and Windows phones.