Microsoft (and others) take digs against Facebook phone’s unoriginality

Yesterday, Facebook announced their much anticipated “Facebook Phone” aka the hilariously named HTC First, which turns out to be nothing more than a mid-range HTC device sporting Android 4.1 and yet-another-custom-skin. That skin simply features the most popular features of Facebook e.g. having it on your lockscreen, etc. but is it a game-changer? Not at all.

Indeed, after enduring the presentation, users familiar with mobile technology may have had a case of déjà vu as Zuckerberg and others focused on the “people first” aspect of their new money maker.  There’s little doubt that Facebook (and HTC) borrowed heavily from the Windows Phone philosophy of allowing your friends and family to be front and center on your phone versus “just more apps”. 

For two years now Microsoft has been pushing the “people first” slogan in mobile (they've have even filed for a patent!) and now it appears Facebook is going that route.

Silver tongued Frank X. Shaw, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Corporate Communications at Microsoft, has now posted a blog entry on Microsoft’s page detailing how the Facebook phone is basically trying to reinvent the Windows Phone philosophy:

“I tuned into the coverage of the Facebook Home event yesterday and actually had to check my calendar a few times.Not to see if it was still April Fools Day, but to see if it was somehow still 2011.Because the content of the presentation was remarkably similar to the launch event we did for Windows Phone two years ago.When we sat down with a blank sheet of paper and designed Windows Phone, we put three words on the wall to guide the team: “Put People First”.Those three words were chosen around a pretty powerful but simple insight: People are more important than apps, so phones should be designed around you and the people you care about, not the apps you might use to reach them.”

Of course we could sympathize a bit here with Facebook as going with just a Facebook app-launcher would not suffice either and we’re not sure where else the largest social network could go but focus on people. But the real crime here is feigning originality, or being “first!” to the market with such a concept (or even making it a differentiator).  But hey, we’re just glad we weren’t tasked with trying to come up with a Facebook phone, which just sounds like punishment.

Others have already started to make fun of the “Facepalm Phone” including a rather lengthy video parody meant to mimic those over-used “let’s interview the designers” that Apple made popular. The video, posted on TechCrunch earlier today, goes out of its way to show how annoying and gimmicky such a device could be. While we had a few groans we did chuckle at the “DTF” joke at about 2 minutes in.

Recipe for failure?

Granted, we’re a Windows Phone site, so it should not be surprising that we don’t have big prospects for the Facebook phone. The hardware is unoriginal and uninspiring, especially for 2013 (5MP camera, an awful front-facing camera, 4.3” display and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 CPU). Having said that, we are able to recognize the strengths of our competitors—we’ve given both the Galaxy S4 and BlackBerry BB10 some praise for being creative and worthy challengers—but the Facebook Phone (aka HTC First, really?) will be a passing phase.

Even our buddy Phil over at Android Central is a bit sour on the branding, noting:

"And still I'm torn over the HTC First. Never mind that confusing smartphone name. We're used to those. But "HTC First" is simply too close to "HTC One." The circles don't really overlap -- they're two very different products -- but they're too close in name to be a good thing for HTC. The last thing needed by a company struggling to rebuild from a number of dismal financial quarters is more brand confusion, and that's what we've got here."

The whole strategy is just wrong as unknowing customers will just walk in to the Store, see “Facebook phone” and then think that the device is limited to just Facebook. We’re sure some diehard FB users will want it, but does it really do anything that Android, iOS or Windows Phone can’t already do? No.

As to Facebook borrowing from Microsoft for focusing on your friends and family, well, we’ll just consider it reaffirmation that Windows Phone is on the right track. The question is, will the HTC First distract from that increased momentum of Windows Phone or will it be a blip?

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.