Facebook has been locked in a fierce rivalry with Google for years (remember Google Plus?), so perhaps it’s unsurprising that the social network wants to wean itself off the use of Google software.
According to a new report in The Information, Facebook is building its own operating system in-house, which will allow it to stop relying on Android. “We really want to make sure the next generation has space for us,” Facebook’s vice president of hardware, Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth, is quoted as saying. “We don’t think we can trust the marketplace or competitors to ensure that’s the case. And so we’re gonna do it ourselves.”
In theory, Facebook’s new operating system will run on the company’s hardware, including Oculus VR headsets and whatever it decides to finally do with its Portal “smart assistants” (one of which you can see above). While we tend to think of Facebook as exclusively a social-networking company, it also has huge hardware ambitions, which include the construction of a 770,000-square-foot campus in Burlingame, California. Once completed, 4,000 employees at that facility will continue the company’s nascent work into everything from processor building to hardware-centric deep learning and A.I.
Facebook isn’t the first company to try to break free of the iOS/Android duopoly that currently dominates most of mobile. Over the past decade, Microsoft tried the same thing with Windows Phone; Hewlett-Packard and then LG muddled through the maintenance of webOS; and Amazon heavily modified Android into FireOS, which powers the company’s Fire tablets. However, none of these operating systems managed to become a viable third player on the market.
Could things be different with Facebook? That’s a difficult question to answer. In theory, if Facebook’s upcoming hardware is a hit with consumers, then the underlying operating system will have a solid shot at survival. However, reports suggest that Portal, its first attempt at a mainstream camera/assistant thingie, didn’t sell very well at all; the Oculus headsets, meanwhile, have struggled to break out from a niche of hardcore VR users. In the wake of Facebook’s much-publicized data scandals, perhaps users fear where information collected by Facebook’s hardware could ultimately end up.
For developers, a major tech company building a new operating system is something to pay attention to. If Facebook’s hardware proves a hit, and opens up to third-party apps and services, it could provide another revenue stream for developers and app-builders—provided those concerns about data safety are sufficiently addressed.