How Facebook Could Win The Smart Phone War - Without A Facebook Phone

Steve Kovach

Facebook rolled out a new feature for the Messenger app on iPhone that lets you make free phone calls to your friends using a WiFi or cellular data connection.

There are, of course, a few caveats:

  • It only works on iPhone.
  • It only works in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Both parties need the separate Facebook Messenger app to make calls. It won't work with the regular Facebook app that you use to update your status and check your News Feed.

But the calling feature in Messenger hints at the grander plans Facebook has for you phone. Just like Facebook is increasingly doing everything in its power to keep you stuck on Facebook.com on your desktop (the addition of search last week is a big step), it's becoming clear that it's also doing its best to keep you within its app ecosystem on your smartphone, even when making calls.

The calling feature works really well too. I've been using it all week to make calls, and the quality is a lot better than it is using the regular calling feature over Verizon's network. In some cases, audio sounded a bit tinny if the person on the other line was using a 3G connection instead of WiFi or LTE. But overall, it was a great experience.

So what does the future "Facebook phone" actually look like? Matt Lynley of the WSJ says the phone might already here, but I think there's a lot more work to be done before we can make that call.

I have a few ideas.

First and most importantly, I'd like to see Facebook redesign its regular app as an all-in-one app. Right now, Facebook has separate apps for sending messages (Messenger), uploading photos (Facebook Camera), managing Like pages (Facebook Pages Manager), and sharing self-destructing photos and videos with your friends (Poke). TechCrunch's Josh Constine says Facebook is working on a redesign for the app (he's seen it with his own eyes), so hopefully that app will spin in features that have been relegated to separate apps.

The calling feature needs to be more phone-like. As it works now in Messenger, you have to select your friend's name, then press a the "i" (information) button to get the phone call option. Phone calls appear on the recipient's screen as a regular pop-up notification if Messenger is closed, so it can be pretty easy to miss a call. Even though Messenger can be used as a phone replacement, it doesn't have the look and feel of one yet.

And finally, Facebook just gave us a glimpse at a future where all smartphone features are performed over data connections. Your regular cell phone plan for calling and texting is slowly dying. Trust me, carriers realize this. The two biggest carriers, Verizon and AT&T, are happy to give you unlimited regular texting and calling in favor of charging you up the nose for data usage.

Despite Mark Zuckerberg's denials, there's always a chance that Facebook will release its own smartphone one day. We already know based on several reports that the company is at least working on one. However, last week's update to Messenger makes me think it'd would be just as happy turning every phone into a Facebook phone through its apps. It feels like a very Facebook-y move.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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