Facebook phone rumours persist despite Zuckerberg denial

Mark Zuckerberg has said that a Facebook-built phone is a bit of a dumb idea, but that hasn't stopped the rumours from persisting that somehow, somewhere Facebook's teaming up with HTC to launch a branded smartphone next year.

To be fair, Businessweek's much-referenced report came out just before the quarterly earnings call in which the Facebook CEO shot down the idea of the Facebook phone. But the contradictions are bizarre: On one hand, you have unnamed sources saying that HTC and Facebook were at one point pushing to release a Facebook smartphone as early as the end of this year, and that Facebook has a modified OS in its back pocket for use on the smartphone itself.

On the other hand, you have Zuckerberg himself.

"There are lots of things that you can build in other operating systems, as well, that aren't really like building out a whole phone, which I think wouldn't really make much sense for us to do," said Facebook's founder and CEO Thursday.

But his denial hasn't stopped the pundits from projecting that Facebook still has a handset in the works.

"But back up for a second. Nobody, including AllThingsD, ever said Facebook was building its own phone. As my colleagues reported last year, Facebook tapped Taiwanese cellphone manufacturer HTC as a partner in working on a Facebook phone, one that has the social network's platform fully integrated deep into the core of the hardware," wrote AllThingsD's Mike Isaac on 26 July.

"His comments still leave tons of room for the company to be doing most of the work on a phone, while working alongside one or many partner manufacturers to do the actual hardware. Even Apple could arguably say it doesn't manufacture phones — Foxconn builds the phones — and Apple is the most profitable phone maker in the world," Isaac added.

It could be, then, that nomenclature is the dividing line that separates authentic Facebook rumour-mongering from outright denial. Or, in other words, it's the reason why Zuckerberg's statement can live in the same universe as the larger-than-a-guess rumours about Facebook and HTC's partnership.

But is the Facebook phone a good idea? Zuckerberg's lukewarm statement about the idea of a Facebook-built phone is mild compared to much of the buzz out there.

"God help us," wrote Socialfresh's Jason Keath in a May article. "Facebook's rapid ascent into mobile shows they are laser focused. Honestly if we look closely it really shows they are in love with iOS. The mobile focus is smart. Their users are there. So their ads and monetization need to be there. A Facebook games app makes sense. A Facebook location app makes sense. But a phone?"

Or, as Betabeat's Jessica Roy puts it (a bit more bluntly): "Speaking of myths, the Facebook phone is apparently a reality, which is a shame because nobody wants a stupid Facebook phone."

Roy may very well have a point, as a new survey conducted by UK digital marketing agency Greenlight found that half of people would "never" buy a Facebook phone.