Facebook has been quiet for the past six months, but only because it's been working on new products. No, one of them is not a Facebook Phone.
"The phone just doesn't make any sense," said a smiling but adamant Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg when asked whether he was working on the mythical Facebook smartphone. The rumor that the social network is working on a physical phone has been bouncing around for years. As recently as July, Bloomberg reported Facebook was working with HTC on a smartphone for 2013, citing sources with knowledge of the matter. Zuckerberg insisted that the number of users the company could reach with a hardware offering "doesn't move the needle for us."
Zuckerberg made the comments during a rare press appearance on Tuesday at the TechCruch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. He was interviewed on stage by Silicon Valley blogger and investor Michael Arrington in front of a fully packed auditorium. The Facebook founder and chief executive has stayed out of the spotlight for the past four months since his company went public. In that time, Facebook's stock has plummeted from its opening day price of $38 a share to around half that. It closed at $19.43 on Tuesday.
"The performance of the stock has obviously been disappointing," said Zuckerberg. Throughout the 30-minute talk, Zuckerberg, wearing a brown T-shirt with the three small Facebook icons for notifications on it, remained calm and upbeat, rambling energetically a bit a times. He was optimistic because his company was focused on building value over a long period of time, he said.
Many factors have been blamed for the stock's dismal performance, including Facebook choosing the wrong market, waiting too long to go public, overpricing shares and issuing too many shares. Analysts and investors have been waiting to hear from the young chief executive himself, looking for new products or at least more information on what, exactly, the company's plan is for the next year.
This event gave Zuckerberg an opportunity to brush off company's recent troubles and drop vague hints about future products.
"Over the coming weeks and months I think we can expect to see the cool stuff that people have been working on," he said. The recent dearth of new releases and silence from the company was actually due to some internal restructuring in which the company moved people around to focus on product groups. One of first results of all that reshuffling was the rebuilt iPhone app, which is faster version of the last app, but lacking any major new features.
"It was not where we wanted it to be before," he said of the app. "And to be honest, even what we have now is not as good as it can be."
Other teams have been working "in parallel" on new features for the native app, he said. While Zuckerberg didn't specify what those unreleased features were, he did touch on a few areas he's excited about, including search, a field dominated by Google and Bing.
"We do on the order of a billion queries a day already, and we're basically not even trying," said Zuckerberg.
He claims people do search though Facebook, and not just for other people but for brands and other information. He sees a future where people can ask questions that only Facebook has the data to answer, such as what restaurants in a specific city are recommended by your friends.
"That's one kind of obvious thing that would be interesting for us to do in the future," he said.
Facebook will continue to let Instagram be Instagram, helping it gain users without trying to integrate the photo app into the larger Facebook infrastructure. Facebook recently purchased the company for $1 billion.
But the topic Zuckerberg hammered on the most was mobile. One of the biggest concerns investors have had is Facebook's ability to make money off of mobile users. The company makes money on the desktop version of its site by serving simple square ads on the right hand side of the site. When the company went public in May, there were no ads on the mobile version of its site or on the iPhone, iPad and Android apps.
But Zuckerberg insisted the company is doing very well on mobile now. There are mobile ads, more mobile users and early signs point to those phone owners spending more time on the app and engaging more with ads than people who visit the desktop version of the site.
In what seemed another attempt to sooth investors, he backpedaled a bit on the now famous statement from his letter to investors: "We don't build services to make money; we make money to build better services."
"From the beginning, we've had this healthy understanding that we need to do both," said Zuckerberg.
Asked if he still codes, Zuckerberg said only for fun because if he wrote code for Facebook he would be in charge of fixing it. Does Mark Zuckerberg's code break, asked Arrington?
"Everything I do breaks, but we fix it quickly," replied Zuckerberg.