Should social media companies make wearables and mobile devices?
Specifically in the case of Facebook, a smartwatch?
If history tells us anything the answer is probably no. Word has it per The Verge that Facebook is “secretly building” a smartwatch that it plans to bring to market in 2022:
“The device is said to be an Android-based smartwatch, though the report does not say whether Facebook intends for the device to run Google’s Wear OS. It also says Facebook is working on building its own operating system for hardware devices and that future iterations of the wearable may run that software instead.”
In addition, Facebook is said to also be working on smart glasses. I guess this makes sense as the social media giant has already pushed in a big way into VR with its Oculus acquisition and product line (which is generally lauded).
The smartwatch is expected to have messaging and fitness features. Makes sense. The former is the part of the core Facebook platform, and it could give it a way to compete against the likes of WhatsApp and other messaging apps.
As for the health metrics that’s something I think that is trickier.
Do you really want to sign over your health data (not to mention GPS location-based data) to a company like Facebook, especially given the privacy and political concerns of the past few years? On the flip side I suppose many would consider the alternatives in Google (Wear OS) and Apple (watchOS) to come with equal helpings of privacy concerns.
Beyond that, though, there’s Facebook’s past foray into mobile devices.
Circa 2013 Facebook dabbled with the idea of a Facebook Phone. Remember the Facebook Home app and chat head bubbles?
The idea didn’t go far, and eventually so far as I can tell the project was cancelled, or at least delayed.
Part of the problem, in my estimation, is that these types of ideas are always seen through the lens of Facebook at large by Facebook developers. And that’s a problematic way to design something that’s not meant to be a social media platform where doom-scrolling and ads and a confined messaging garden and an emphasis on like-me-centric culture are among the guiding principles.
We could point to the success of Oculus and say there’s a successful precedent for Facebook’s foray into hardware. However, Oculus was as we know an acquisition and wasn’t a homegrown product effort.
Of course a Facebook smartwatch could be successful. To do so it would need to differentiate from the two main players.
Fitbit (now owned by Google) is and has been focused on fitness. The whole experience is built around getting your steps in, and tracking health metrics like resting heart rate and calories burned. It’s a mature platform that has a sizeable fan base and plenty of features — Spotify integration for instance — that make it a reasonably priced fitness tracker that differentiates from more complicated smartwatch offerings.
Then there’s the market leader, the Apple Watch.
Hands down the Apple Watch is by far the biggest seller. It’s easy to use, has an incredibly diverse library of useful apps (Apple Home, Hue, Fitness+, messaging, etc.) and does pretty much everything you’d want from a smartwatch in 2021. One downside: Apple Watch only works with iPhones. That means Fitbit and potentially Facebook can tap into the Android market and its massive user base whereas Apple cannot.
I think if Facebook somehow leverages the Oculus ecosystem and taps into VR and somehow integrate the experience with a smartwatch (I have no idea how that would look) that might be one angle in terms of differentiation.
Another, of course, would be messaging. Hardcore Facebook users could benefit from a experience that provides advanced controls on their wrists for engaging with other Facebook users in ways not currently possible on, say, the Apple Watch. Then again, I suspect these very same users are accessing FB through the smartphone app or web browser … negating the need for an advanced smart watch experience.
In any case I think a Facebook smartwatch would be a tough sell.