A new study by Retrevo suggests a minor problem for Facebook, which is announcing a new phone-related product today: Nobody wants a Facebook phone.
Retrevo does seem to be overstating its case here, at least a bit: Respondents were asked about a “Facebook phone” and a Facebook phone “service,” and Facebook is not going to announce pure versions of either today. The announcement is most likely going to be tight integration with Android, making for a Facebook-centric Google phone — a Facebook homescreen.
But the fact that the prospect of something greater, and more essentially Facebook, doesn’t inspire enthusiasm speaks to the company’s unusual relationship with its users as compared with a company like Apple (and to a lesser extent, Google or Amazon).
The first, or primary, relationship people have with Apple is this: I give Apple money; Apple gives me a nice phone or tablet in return. Customers’ first relationship with Facebook is more symmetric: I give Facebook my data, and it gives me others’ data in return. Facebook isn’t seen as a company that makes things, but a company that takes things. So we have no reason to expect a product from Facebook to be good at anything but collecting and sharing data; a Facebook phone, because of what we understand Facebook to be, will always be Facebook’s phone, and never fully ours.