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Did Facebook Launch the Branded Smartphone Phenomenon?

By Rich Duprey - Apr 21, 2013 at 9:38AM

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Yet another crumb is found on the trail to a new smartphone.

Why not a Twitter phone? Following the launch of Facebook's (FB 1.39%) Home earlier this month, it could be heralding the start of a new trend: the branded smartphone.

Of course, smartphones with designer labels are not exactly new, as Swiss watch maker TAG Heuer, for example, has produced branded smartphones for years, starting with its Meridiist line in 2008. Last year it offered up a $6,700 Link handset, and just last month you could get yourself its new Racer version for a modest $3,700. Moreover, designers such as Versace and Prada have also applied their name to handsets.

But the Facebook Home smartphone is something different, and it's likely to lead in all sorts of directions. How the handset interacts with your Facebook feed by dominating the screen and purpose of the phone naturally leads to speculation that other social-media sites could similarly brand their own devices, hence the Twitter phone.

The Kindle phablet
But why stop at social media? As my Foolish colleague Evan Niu has chronicled, it seems for all intents and purposes that Amazon.com (AMZN -0.03%) is taking the steps necessary to cobble together a new device.

From hiring away smartphone executives from Microsoft (MSFT 3.20%) to acquiring voice recognition expert EVI, the online retailer sure as heck looks like it's planning a smartphone assault. And it makes sense, because it could drive mobile users to greater consumption of Amazon content, which is really what the Internet retailer is after. The Kindle tablet, after all, is designed to help move books, music, and other content, and a smartphone could be optimized for just such a purpose, particularly if reports are true that it's teamed up with Apple's (AAPL 4.01%) manufacturer Foxconn or if it really wants a 4.7-inch screen, as Digitimes has suggested.

More than just a niche for some luxury label to slap its name on a handset, a Bank of America smartphone could provide fully linked access to a customer's checking, brokerage, and credit card accounts as well as his mortgage, while displaying local branch and ATM locations. Get your local refi rates while transferring cash between accounts as you stand in the grocery line.

Microsoft is already working on extending its Surface brand, though a lukewarm response to the Surface tablet featuring its Windows 8 OS may ultimately delay the launch of a Surface smartphone.

Pushing customers forward
Because of the closed nature of Apple's ecosystem, we won't be seeing any iOS-branded smartphones hitting the market, and there are certainly certain brands that would work better having with their own device other than as simply a nameplate and some app that served as a glorified store locator. Companies that are able to push customers to use its service or store such as Amazon would reap the greatest rewards.

So depending upon the response to Facebook Home, it may be consumers want more than just an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. The branded smartphone could become as common as designer jeans and be the latest status symbol.

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