Is Facebook Really Dialing Up A 'Buffy' HTC Phone?

The blogosphere is abuzz with rumors that an official Facebook phone exists, called Buffy. Buffy.

At an HTC press conference in February, Facebook Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer emphasized that there were no plans for an actual Facebook phone, adding that Facebook shortcuts would be added to the home screens of dozens of devices. Mark, meet Buffy, formerly known as Slayer.

AllThingsD has been all over the Buffy story, with three posts and counting this week (here, here, and here), and sister blog Inside Mobile Apps has offered its take, as well.

HTC aside, the INQ Cloud Touch debuted in the United Kingdom in April, claiming to be the “first official Facebook phone,” although its claim was not corroborated by the social network.

So, what do we know? Via AllThingsD’:

  • Mobile-phone manufacturer HTC will build a smartphone with Facebook as its core, running on a modified version of Android.
  • Facebook began its original effort about a year-and-a-half ago, forming a special mobile operations team in a separate building only accessible by keycard to those involved. Its goal was to build a phone with integrated software and hardware. But the project was not fruitful, and it was canceled, with several of the people involved leaving Facebook altogether or taking extended leaves of absence.
  • The team was led by Chamath Palihapitiya and included Firefox founder and Facebook iPhone app creator Joe Hewitt, Google Chrome operating system creator Matt Papakipos, business-development executive Priti Choksi, developer Zhen Fang, and designer Matt Cahill.
  • According to Inside Mobile Apps, the project was kept secret from other Facebook employees for months, but it became a “train wreck,” with costs spiraling out of control, leading to the departures of Palihapitiya, Cahill, and Hewitt, among others.
  • The project was originally code-named Slayer, short for Social Layer, but it was changed to the less violent Buffy (yes, as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
  • Google’s move to open-source the code for its Android operating system spurred Buffy.
  • Facebook will likely need a partner on the mobile side for services it does not currently offer in that sector, such as music and video.

A Facebook spokesman would not admit to Buffy’s existence, telling AllThingsD:

Our mobile strategy is simple: We think every mobile device is better if it is deeply social. We’re working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers to bring powerful social experiences to more people around the world.

Readers: Do you believe a market exists for an official Facebook phone, or do you feel that social media integration in existing and future mobile devices is enough? David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.