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Facebook – the Mobile Operating System

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17 February 2011

Gemalto, a company that brands themselves as world leaders in Digital Security, has just turned the social media world upside down (or at least on its side), by getting Facebook to run on a SIM chip.

Random? Not at all.

Facebook running on a SIM chip

What does this mean, exactly?

Facebook is making a land grab for the mobile market unlike any we’ve seen before, and it’s doing it in a completely unexpected way.

Like Google is doing on the desktop with Chrome OS, Facebook is turning itself into the Operating System in the Cloud for mobile phones.

By implanting Facebook onto a SIM chip, users of old or basic GSM phones without any Internet connectivity like GPRS or 3G, can now, if the phone’s firmware supports it (ie one routine firmware upgrade away), use basic Facebook functionality, like posting, commenting, poking, liking, etc – through the phone’s basic menu system.

So, if a phone doesn’t have GPRS or 3G connectivity, how on earth does this work then?

Your updates go to Facebook via SMS, and Facebook downloads its data to your phone via Class 2 SMS – a type of SMS that does not end up in your inbox, but is meant to be read by an application on your phone.

Simple, eh?

Targeting mobile is not exactly a new strategy for Facebook. Let’s have a look at its mobile past, and try to get a hindsight view on the bigger picture:


Scarcely 2 years after being born (the linked article still referred to Facebook as Popular college social networking site!), Facebook launched the mobile version of Facebook.com.

This was, at the time, becoming the norm for any website, and seemed pretty harmless.


Facebook Connect has been all the rage in 2008, and in 2009 Facebook launched Facebook Connect for iPhone apps

This move did make it seem like Facebook was starting to own the universal login, not only on web, but also on mobile.



In a bold, unforseen move, Facebook launched Facebook 0, a version of its mobile site that is free of any data charges in selected developing countries.

This was clearly a very clever step towards owning mobile in territories where it’s predominant – a territory largely ignored by the rest of the traditional online world. (Note the irony in the use of traditional here?)

What exactly have they been up to? The speculation commenced:

later in 2010

Leading tech blog Techcrunch took the first step: Facebook is secretly building a Phone.

No, replied Zuckerberg, we’re not.

More precisely:

The bottom line is that whenever we work on a deep integration, people want to call it a “Facebook Phone” (even internally) because that’s such an attractive sound bite, but our real strategy is to make everything social and not build one phone or integration.

Which, obviously, meant: We are actually building a phone, but not in any way you lot are going to expect.


Finally, the answer. Tight Integration. That’s what they’ve been up to. Working closely with mobile handset makers to integrate Facebook so tightly into the operating system, that it almost becomes the operating system.

It all starts to make sense now, doesn’t it?

Think of the typical smartphone, and the default applications on it, and see which of those boxes are ticked by Facebook.

There’s an inbox (check), there’s a calendar (check), there’s a photo album manager (check), there’s an address book (double check). The list goes on.

Then there’s an application framework (check – in 2006 already – the Jurassic era of social).

How could we have missed this? Facebook is, and have always been, a mobile platform.

Maybe by accident? Or maybe mobile platforms just turned out to mimic Facebook, and vice versa, because they developed more or less at the same time, both fulfilling social needs.

Either way – Facebook is a mobile Operating System.

And now, while the big dogs of iPhone, Android and Blackberry are attacking the mobile beast head on, Facebook is slowly but surely eating its way up its long tail.

SIM cards – who would’ve thought!

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