By Molly McHugh
Before getting into what Facebook is doing, let’s get this out of the way first: there’s no phone. And there isn’t going to be one. As CEO Mark Zuckerberg so eloquently put it, “there’s been this rumor floating around that Facebook is going to build a phone. Um. No.”
Now that that’s done, here’s what the social networking giant did confirm in its press event this morning. Facebook announced it will launch its horizontal mobile platform today for smartphones, as well as refreshing its currently available apps. Some particulars to these updates are introducing Groups to iPhone and Android specifically, as well as making it easier to tag people and photos while using the Places mobile app.
As far as the Facebook platform goes, it’s created around three features: Single Sign-on, location, and Deals.
The entire concept of Single Sign-on is based on the idea of how annoying it is to login with your username and password on a mobile phone. Facebook’s Erick Tseng emphasized multiple times how obnoxious it is type in the information, not to mention remembering it. Now, users can hit a Facebook icon that does it for you, the most significant benefit of this being able to more immediately access and confirm your Groupon deals. And whether or not this makes you feel better or worse, Single Sign-on uses the same permission system that games and applications on Facebook does now.
Facebook Engineering Manager Dave Fetterman stressed the open Places API now available. The tool that allows users to read where your friends are, write and publish where you check in, and search for relevant places can now be integrated into any location-based site, including Loopt, Gowalla, Foursquare, and Yelp. Now instead of logging your location on multiple sites, the location of your and your friends is streamlined and collected into one place: Facebook.
There’s been a lot of speculation about this feature and the business it could take away from Groupon, and after seeing the impressive list of companies partnering with Facebook, it seems justified. This new application is described as filling a void left in Places, which will allow the place you checked into, a store for example, to communicate with you. It’s a pretty simple concept: When combined with Places, users are eligible for coupons for checking into a business. It also encourages businesses (particularly local businesses) to create a Facebook Business Page, which is required for offering Deals to fans. There are four different types of deals business can offer: individual (one per person), friend (where users are rewarded for bringing guests), loyalty (a punch-card system available on your phone), and charity (where a business will donate to a charity of your choice).
Sounds easy enough, and it’s undoubtedly going to be successful, especially with its lineup of vendors launching Deals this month: Northface, Gap, Palms Hotel in Las Vegas, H&M, 24 Hour Fitness, JCPenney, Starbucks, McDonald’s… the list goes on. And just as an example of a deal, they threw out this upcoming example: on a yet-to-be-announced day, Gap will offer a free pair of jeans to the first 1,000 people in its nationwide stores. If you don’t make the cutoff, you still get 40 percent off your purchase.
So that’s all from Palo Alto for the day. No huge surprises, just a reaffirmation of Facebook’s mobile-meets-social dominance. In closing, Zuckerberg remaked, “There’s a revolution happening in the social place… you can take anything and make it social, remake whole industries.”