Predicting the next big thing up Mark Zuckerberg's sleeve

On the eve of Facebook's big press event, we round up the evidence and theorize about the likelihood of a Facebook phone, search engine, and other rumored releases.

Mark Zuckerberg on stage at f8 in 2010. James Martin/CNET

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg won't be phoning it in tomorrow when he shows off something rumored to be quite grand.

Will he unveil a Facebook phone, a search engine, a reimagined version of the mobile News Feed, a measly Messenger app for iPad, or all of the above? Anything seems possible at this point. Perhaps, the only thing we know for certain is what he will be wearing: jeans, his characteristic tee, and maybe even that famous hoodie.

CNET will be live-blogging the news as it happens at 10 a.m. PT. Until then, we've rounded up the rumors and included our educated guesses as to what you can expect to see tomorrow.

A Facebook Phone
Ring-a-ding-ding, could it be? Will we finally get to feast our eyes on the mythical Facebook Phone, a years-old legend that probably isn't an actual phone made by Facebook, just one optimized to run the social network to an extreme degree. MG Siegler said as much over the weekend, and we've heard a few credible whispers ourselves, though we can't confirm the existence of said phone just yet.

Should Zuckerberg show off a phone tomorrow, it will probably be a piece of hardware manufactured by a partner like HTC running a forked version of Android with Facebook at the core of the experience, a.k.a. a Facebook mobile operating system. Now that would be some interesting news that would continue to move the needle on the company's stock onward and upward. Shares have already been bolstered by phone-related reports in recent days.

Verdict: Likely. Our friends at Facebook have led us to believe that this announcement is a big deal, which means we'd be sadly disappointed if all we got was some silly Messenger application for iPad. Here's another hint: Facebook is also participating in the Open Compute Project on Wednesday. Wouldn't it make sense that company executives used the summit to talk more about how to build around or optimize for a Facebook OS? Yes, yes it would.

Messenger for iPad
Speaking of Facebook Messenger for iPad, Alexia Tsotsis at TechCrunch said sources are pointing to the release of an iPad application that emulates the features of Messenger for iPhone and Android.

Verdict: Very likely. Dry as it may be, this one seems like a no-brainer. Facebook has been regularly improving and expanding on Messenger, so an iPad app would round out the company's alternative to traditional texting and email. But did Facebook invite the media elite to Menlo Park just to see this app? Heck no, they didn't.

A visual redo of the mobile News Feed
Boy, wouldn't it be great if Facebook didn't merely replicate the Web experience for News Feed on mobile devices? Josh Constine at TechCrunch has apparently laid his eyes on an experimental version of Facebook for mobile devices that parses out the News Feed into sections based on content type such as news and photos. The reworked News Feed experience on mobile is entirely image-based with text overlaid on top of full-screen photos, he said.

Verdict: Possible for tomorrow but more likely for a later date. Facebook's mobile application users are still adjusting to and enjoying the faster, more native experiences the social network recently gave them on iOS and Android. It seems like a stretch of the imagination for Facebook to risk pissing people off (so soon after pleasing them) with such a dramatic redo, unless it's a separate application like Poke or Camera.

Video ads that auto play in News Feed
Just a few weeks ago, rumors were swirling that Facebook was preparing to launch a video ad unit that would auto play in members' News Feeds.

Verdict: Not happening. If Facebook was planning to unveil a new ad unit, the company would arrange to do so in New York in front of a media-buying audience. Plus, we believe the focus of tomorrow's press event will be mobile, and the video ads sound like they're hitting the desktop app first.

A Facebook search engine
"Facebook is pretty uniquely positioned to answer a lot of questions people have," Zuckerberg said in September in regards to creating a search engine . "At some point we will do it."

The admissions are fueling speculation that the social network could launch a much improved search experience tomorrow. The company has already taken baby steps in this area. A December update to the Nearby section of Facebook's iOS and Android apps gave members access to a list of places sorted by an algorithm that factors in friends' activities and preferences. The release highlights how Facebook is capable of mining pals' data to provide people with recommendations for unspoken queries.

Verdict: Maybe. There's no real evidence to suggest that a bonafide search engine is coming soon, but any improvement to the status quo would be welcome and good for Facebook's bottom line.

A cool new campus
Tuesday's press invite clearly states "come and see what we're building," which one could easily read as a literal clue suggesting the unveil of a funky second campus just for engineers.

In August, Facebook talked up plans to break ground on an engineering campus designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry in "early 2013." That space is a single room, warehouse-style office with cafes, break-away spaces, a rooftop garden, and an underground tunnel to 1601 Willow Road.

Verdict: No way, Jose. Yes, it's early 2013, and the word "building" in the invite is more than a little suggestive, but this would be so anti-climatic that it would send Facebook's stock spiraling in the wrong direction. Facebook is too smart to set itself up for failure.

 

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