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Rumors of Facebook mobile phone surface

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(WTVR) – In the same week Google announced it had become a hardware maker, after closing its acquisition of Motorola Mobility, another Internet giant is making a bid to do the same.

The New York Times, citing unnamed sources, claims that Facebook is hoping to release its own smartphone by next year.

Those sources include Facebook employees and several engineers who have been sought out by recruiters there, as well as people briefed on Facebook’s plans.Those briefed on the plans say that the company has already hired more than six “former Apple software and hardware engineers who worked on the iPhone, and one who worked on the iPad.”

This isn’t the first report that Facebook has been attempting to make a mobile device.

In November, AllThingsD reported that Facebook had tapped HTC to build a smartphone that integrates the social network at its core in an effort code-named “Buffy”. DigiTimes later reiterated that report saying HTC was working in cooperation with Facebook on a phone that could be launched as early has the third quarter of 2012.

It’s worth noting that in February 2011 at Mobile World Congress, HTC unveiled two new smartphones that feature dedicated Facebook buttons: the HTC ChaCha and the HTC Salsa.

Now, the company is going deeper into the process, by expanding the group working on “Buffy”, and exploring other smartphone projects too, creating a team of seasoned hardware engineers who have built the devices before.

 One engineer who formerly worked at Apple and worked on the iPhone said he met with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, who then peppered him with questions about the inner workings of smartphones. It did not sound like idle intellectual curiosity, the engineer said; Mr. Zuckerberg asked about intricate details, including the types of chips used, he said. Another former Apple hardware engineer was recruited by a Facebook executive and was told about the company’s hardware explorations.

Facebook, for it’s part, didn’t confirm or deny the New York Times assertion that a smartphone project is under way, but rather referred him to a statement it had earlier given All Things D, “We’re working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers.”

These reports come on the heels of a Business Insider report that lays more groundwork for a successful Facebook smartphone OS. It notes that just this week, Facebook rolled out Facebook Camera, not to mention its pending acquisition of Instagram. And it’s also all set with a Facebook Messages app, a Facebook app store, and its reportedly interested in buying the Opera.

Add to all this the newly public company’s concerns on how to shift its users to mobile devices in a way that won’t hurt its long-term revenue. A mobile phone would tackle that hurdle perfectly.