Facebook is reportedly developing its own hardware, software and operating system (OS) so it doesn’t need to rely on Google or its Android OS.
Facebook’s VP of hardware, Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth, said the company doesn’t think it can trust the marketplace or competitors to ensure “the next generation has space for [Facebook].”
However, don’t worry — Facebook’s apps won’t vanish from your phone. The social network is focussing on building an OS for use with AR glasses. By making the leap to its own operating system, Facebook could build social interaction deeper into devices.
Having its own OS would also mean that a potential disagreement between Facebook and Google wouldn’t affect the social network’s plans for gadgets. Devices based on Android, or some version of that OS, could be at the mercy of Google.
Facebook is taking hardware seriously
On the hardware side, Facebook is ramping up efforts at a new office for its augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) team. Located in Burlingame, California — about 25km northwest of the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park — the 70,000-square-foot space is designed to house almost 4,000 employees.
Facebook told TechCrunch that the AR/VR team will move there in the latter half of 2020. That team can make use of the space’s labs and testing areas, but will still have members at other offices in California, New York, Washington and abroad.
Further, the company reportedly held acquisition talks with semiconductor company Cirrus Logic, which makes audio chips for Apple and more, according to The Information. While the deal never went through, it was an indication of how serious Facebook is taking hardware.
Facebook wants to read your thoughts
Finally, the report addresses Facebook’s work on more social hardware. On the one end, you have products like Oculus and Portal, which now feed into the company’s core advertising business. These products supply the social network with some data about what people do, such as which games they play. Facebook then uses that information to serve ads.
However, the company wants to go further than that, and know what’s on our minds before we act. The Information reports that Facebook is working on brain-computer interface hardware, which it has successfully shrunk from the size of a refrigerator to something that can be held in your hand, although it’s still a ways from integration in a phone.
The system uses sensors to recognize a word someone is thinking about. Facebook told TechCrunch that it has made progress in improving the word error rate. It’s also expanded the dictionary of words that can be recognized. It can now decode brain activity in real-time and Facebook is working on an intermediary system for identifying single words as it pushes towards brain typing at 100 words-per-minute.
Ultimately, it seems Facebook has learned a lot since its last major hardware push — an HTC-made device called ‘First’ running a forked version of Android with Facebook’s Home platform. While the HTC First and Facebook Home never took off, it seems the attempt taught the social network some valuable lessons.
With its current hardware push, the devices won’t necessarily generate huge amounts of money for Facebook. Instead, they’ll help the company remain relevant in the next wave of computing and smart devices. It hopes to keep the experience a social one as well, likely while it gathers data to feed its advertising business.