Facebook headhunts Apple engineers for 3rd smartphone attempt

By Lee Kaelin on May 28, 2012, 1:00 PM

According to the New York Times, citing multiple unnamed sources, Facebook has hired more than half a dozen former Apple engineers with experience working on the iPhone in order to create its own smartphone software and hardware in response to growing threats from the mobile web.

The social networking giant has tried this venture two times previously. The first attempt in 2010 was scrapped after the company realized the difficulties it would face in the transition from a software developer firm to a hardware manufacturer. Its second effort, which leaked late last year, is still under development with Taiwanese phone maker HTC. The project codenamed "Buffy" took over from the first failed attempt.

Now Facebook is making its third attempt to build a new smartphone for as early as next year. The company is reportedly delving "deeper into the process, by expanding the group working on Buffy, and exploring other smartphone projects too, creating a team of seasoned hardware engineers who have built the devices before."

In the company's recent IPO filing, the ever-increasing mobile web usage by consumers migrating from desktop and notebook computers to smartphones and tablets is listed as one of the firm's greatest threats to its business. The issue is highlighted further by financial reports revealing Facebook makes no real sizable income from mobile app users, which are now growing more rapidly than traditional website users.

"Mark [Zuckerberg] is worried that if he doesn’t create a mobile phone in the near future that Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms," an employee at Facebook said when speaking to the NY Times.

He is right to be concerned, however. Facebook's main advertising rival on the web is Google, and it's also arguably the leader in mobile OS searches as well, with a lucrative search deal with Apple for iOS using the Google search engine. That's without even considering the army of Google Android OS powered smartphones and tablets, also using Google search by default.

"We're working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers," the company said in a statement, adding that it doesn't comment on speculation or rumors.

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