Facebook held a press conference about its new mobile strategy on Wednesday. In a nutshell, Facebook is updating apps for Android and iOS, and it is not building a Facebook phone. Instead, it's going to be platform agnostic and try to treat all platforms equally.
Ho-hum. Sounds pretty dull, right? I mean, no hardware announcement. No shiny phone to handle and photograph. The big news is that you'll be able to log onto your favorite poker app with your Facebook ID. Oh, and Facebook is going to start offering local coupons, based on location. You could practically see the crowd falling asleep.
Jaded tech journalists, they could hardly believe Facebook had dragged them out to California for this apparent non-announcement. In fact, this was a much bigger deal for programmers and third-party app makers who are involved with Facebook, or with location-based services. But that doesn't make for exciting headlines.
Know what does make for an exciting headline? When Mark Zuckerberg totally dissed the iPad. When asked about a Facebook app for iPad, Zuckerberg curtly replied: "It's not mobile." The person asking the question interjects: "I think Apple would disagree with you," and, in his famously Zuckerberg way, the Facebook CEO blows this off by saying "Sorry."
Finally, tech blogs had a story. Zuckerberg disrespects the iPad and Apple. Zuckerberg attacks Apple's tablet. The iPad has been riding a wave of popularity for so long, it's about time for that wave to crest and come crashing down, and finally tech journalists had the quote they needed to tell the story they had already decided to tell. The iPad is going down because it sucks. Zuckerberg said so.
Except, that's not exactly what happened. In fact, that's not even close. Business Insider has the exchange on video and you can see it here. They open this post with the line: "Is the iPad a mobile device? Not according to Mark Zuckerberg."
They couldn't have gotten it more wrong. First of all, Zuckerberg never says the word "device." He just says "mobile." Now, are we to believe that Mark Zuckerberg does not think the iPad is mobile? Does Zuckerberg really believe that you can't take the iPad with you? You can't bring it to a coffeeshop, or take it on a plane ride? Of course not. But that's what Jay Yarow at Business Insider implies.
First, here's what I think Zuckerberg was really saying. The event was called a Facebook Mobile event. The company wanted to talk about the future of Facebook on mobile phones. That's all mobile phones, including phones with simpler mobile browsers, not just the big heavyweight smartphones.
At the end of the long session, a journalist stands up during the question and answer period and asks about a Facebook iPad app. It's a legitimate question for sure, because there has been a lot of curiosity about how Facebook might scale to the iPad's screen. Currently, if you want to use Facebook on the iPad, you have to blow up the iPhone version to double size, which is not a good looking solution, or you have to use Safari to browse to Facebook.
But Zuckerberg didn't want to talk about the iPad. He was focused on mobile, and that's the word that came out when he dismissed the iPad question. "The iPad is not 'mobile'" is what he was saying. He was probably using the familiar terminology they've been throwing around to describe this event.
He was not saying that the iPad is not a mobile device. He was not saying that Facebook was not interested in supporting the iPad. He was not being blunt, as Jason Kincaid says on TechCrunch. He was being dismissive. He was only talking about the iPad tangentially, not addressing any real concerns Facebook has about developing an app for the iPad and tablet devices.
Second, here's my problem with the coverage this has gotten. Dozens of blogs picked up on the line, with headlines saying "Zuckerberg Says the iPad Is Not Mobile."
If you watch the entire exchange, that is not his meaning at all. He's not being misquoted, but he is being taken out of context in a big way. His little gaffe is being sensationalized as an important criticism from the CEO of the largest Web site in the world.
Erick Tseng, head of Facebook's mobile products division, stepped in to clarify the statement, perhaps realizing exactly how Zuckerberg would be misinterpreted. A couple minutes later, Zuckerberg himself clarifies what he meant, and it's actually fairly interesting.
It really boils down to this: they are still thinking about it. There is clearly a new category of machine hitting the market, and Facebook is not ready to commit to one platform, or one interface concept. Zuckerberg gave the impression that Facebook is still trying to decide how to best serve Facebook's content on a tablet-style device. It's a good question, considering the two most interesting consumer tablets on the market are drastically different devices. The iPad is almost twice the size of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and both have different levels of openness and connectivity on board. Clearly the same app wouldn't work for both, but perhaps there is some common ground to be found in the tablet space.
But that's not how the tech media reported this non-event. The media likes to tell a story, and will fit events into the round holes of the story even if they happen to be square pegs. The story about Mark Zuckerberg is that he's rash, youthful and impulsive. When the media heard his line about the iPad, they wanted this to be a moment of true honesty from a CEO who is actually relatable and perhaps open enough to be candid with the press. This may be the case, but it doesn't describe the Zuckerberg I saw in the press conference. I saw a guy who was completely likeable and thoughtful. Not someone who is impulsive and ready to do battle.
The second story the media wants to tell is the fall of the iPad. The iPad has been incredibly popular, but in order to tell the story, it needs a denouement. It's time for the iPad to go down. The same thing happened with the iPhone, and the same thing happens for every product that catches fire and proves remarkably popular. After a while, it gets boring telling the same old: "The iPad is great and everybody loves it" stories, whether or not those are true in the first place. It's time to bring the iPad down, and the media stands Zuckerberg up as a straw man and lights his comments on fire.