Facebook's 'new home on Android' is a smartwatch

BetaNews has learned that Facebook's "new home on Android" is not a phone, as widely rumored, but -- get this -- a smartwatch. A source with knowledge of the social network's April 4 event contacted me after reading colleague Mihaita Bamburic's Saturday post: "I'm a gadget lover who doesn't love smartwatches".

I simply couldn't believe that, so I contacted a truly trusted source, who acknowledged -- after lots of coaxing -- that the watch tip is genuine. I still didn't believe and contacted another source, who wasn't immediately available because of Easter celebrations. Like Mihaita, I think smartwatches are a dumb idea. About an hour ago, he (or it she) confirmed the Android timepiece will be Facebook's show-stopping announcement.

If you listen to the Internet rumor rabble, everyone from Apple to Google to Samsung is developing a smartwatch, but Facebook could have the distinction of getting to market first. My last source shared a few nuggets of information -- he had been drinking (who does that to celebrate Easter). The watch is huge, but he wouldn't say how much other than to ask: "Have you seen those big Russian watches? Like them but thicker".

The Facebook watch uses voice dictation and response. For example, using a Bluetooth earpiece, you can command the timepiece to read back Wall posts, dictate comments or "Like" something by simply saying the word.

Sorry, Mr. Zuckerberg, but the design concept makes no sense. Simpler and sounder approach: Develop a way for consumers to easily use a Bluetooth earpiece to control Facebook on a smartphone and let a voice-response system read back while they walk or work, instead of lifting the wrist to see or hear.

Something else: People aren't used to recharging their watches every few days. Unless Facebook provides solar charging, it's hard to see how battery life wouldn't be a problem, particularly when adding Bluetooth -- and a cellular radio.

One of my sources gave a kind of "wink, wink" response regarding PC connectivity. She strongly insinuated that Facebook's watch wouldn't need to sync to a computer, which must mean over-the-air. That suggests 2G radio at least. The only other way I see is FM, which Microsoft used for its partners' line of smartwatches in the last decade.

Facebook has completed final technical, but not cosmetic, designs. The company plans to give out prototypes to news media attending this week's event and launch a preview program similar to Google's CR-48 Chromebook back in December 2010. The search and information giant gave out 60,000 computers during a broad beta test before Acer and Samsung released the first commercial models about six months later.

None of my sources would say when Facebook's smartwatch would be available to purchase, but one hinted long before the holidays. Assuming 6 months from public prototypes to commercial products, like Google and Chromebooks, that works out to September release, if not sooner.

I'm dubious about Facebook's plans -- or smartwatches from anyone. Microsoft brought a brilliantly-conceived smartwatch strategy to market in the mid-Noughties along with well-known watchmakers like Fossil, Suunto and Swatch -- and still the project fissiled. Using FM radio to keep constant connection assured users could get news, weather and other info anytime and anywhere.

But recharging was the deal breaker. Then there was behavior. Look how many people no longer carry watches because they get time from phones they regularly check? This was true during the dumb phone era, when Microsoft and partners released high-tech timepieces. The company failed in this market long before mobiles -- where "smart" makes more sense -- offer as much information as they do today.

April Fools! If Facebook really releases a smartwatch, then the joke's on me.

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