Facebook reportedly launching mobile OS, not Facebook phone, at upcoming event

Facebook Messenger for iPad also rumored to be on tap

A Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) media event scheduled for Jan. 15 is once again fueling rumors the social networking giant plans to unveil some kind of mobile phone initiative, most likely a device built by a manufacturing partner but running a Facebook-designed operating system. The company also is expected to introduce a version of its Messenger application optimized for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad tablet.

Citing multiple sources with knowledge of Facebook's plans, TechCrunch reports the company will introduce some kind of "Facebook phone" Tuesday, although specifics are scarce. Instead of releasing a branded device built in-house, conventional wisdom says Facebook will roll out its own mobile OS, most likely a forked version of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, designed to run devices created by an OEM partner or multiple hardware partners.

Facebook phone rumors have surfaced in the past, of course--not only have those rumors proven untrue, but Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly stated the company has no plans to initiate such a project. In addition, insiders say Facebook has privately promised both Apple and Google that a branded phone is not in the cards. But TechCrunch notes Facebook has consistently disavowed plans for a mobile device, not an operating system--moreover, it's possible the OS may not compete head-to-head with iOS and Android but could instead power lower-cost phones tailored for emerging markets.

Also lending credence to the latest Facebook phone rumors is the scale of Tuesday's media event. The company will hold simultaneous presentations in Silicon Valley and London, and multiple sources tell TechCrunch the announcement will be "a big deal," suggesting something far more newsworthy than new services or applications.

That being said, a separate TechCrunch report states Facebook will debut Messenger for iPad, a new version of the popular messaging app optimized for the tablet form factor, complete with photo-sharing, location-tagging and voice messaging features. Facebook launched Messenger for iPhone and Android in mid-2011 in an effort to steer users away from conventional operator SMS solutions; a recent update introduced voice messaging options, and VoIP calling features are in the pipeline.

Facebook now touts more than 1 billion users worldwide, with roughly 600 million accessing its platform via mobile.

For more:
- read this TechCrunch report and this report

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