Rumor: Facebook to announce mobile OS next week

facebook phone

The Facebook Phone is one of the longest-running urban legends in the tech world. I can remember it being reported on as far back as 2010, and I’m sure it goes back further than that. But thus far, nothing has materialized, and Mark Zuckerberg himself has even denied its existence.

Despite all of this, a new report is out today claiming that the social network indeed has a handset in the works. And according to the usual “sources familiar with the matter,” it’s going to use its just-announced January 15th media event to unveil it to the world…

TechCrunch’s well-connected columnist M.G. Siegler reports:

“In The Lord of the Rings, when Sauron’s forces capture Gollum, they torture him in Mordor but are only able to get two things out of him: “Shire” and “Baggins”. Over the past few days, we’ve had similar frustrations in trying to track down the content of the Facebook event taking place this coming Tuesday. Despite hounding a number of people who might be in the know, the only discernible things we were able to come up with was: “big deal” and “mobile”.

Interesting, but way too vague. But we endured. And now we have a bit more information. And that information points to a Facebook Phone …of some sort.”

Now, Siegler is quick to point out that there have been several reports about the fabled ‘Facebook Phone’ over the years, and none of them have come to pass. But he also says that he has been told, by multiple sources, that Facebook is going to announce a phone of some sort next week.

Underline “of some sort,” because it doesn’t seem like much is known about the project. It could be new hardware and software — remember, HTC was rumored to be working on a Facebook handset at one point. Or it could be just the software, more specifically a Facebook operating system.

As for the hardware, if there is hardware, you’d think Facebook just outsourced it to a major manufacturer (like HTC). Facebook doesn’t have much of a background in that field. And as for the software, Siegler outlines three different possible scenarios for how it could do an OS.

“What about the OS itself? How would Facebook do it? Details are slim here as well, but the obvious answer would be a fork of Android. This would allow the OS to run hundreds of thousands of apps already out there. With Amazon seeing some success doing this with their Kindle Fire tablets (and soon their own phone as well), this could have emboldened Facebook to make the move now.”

Additionally, Facebook could also go with WebOS. Even though HP’s been seemingly doing everything they can to run the platform into the ground, they did just open-source it. So it is a possibility. And the third, less likely, option would be for Facebook to build its own OS from scratch.

It’s tough, you know. It’s tough to believe a rumor like this when we’ve been let down so many times. But Siegler’s confidence in the report is enough to make us pay attention, and we’ll be watching Facebook’s media gig this Tuesday and will be sure to report back. It’s slated to start at 10am PT.

What do you think, will Facebook unveil a phone next week?