Could a smartphone built around an enormously popular app be a hit with consumers? ByteDance certainly hopes so, as it is reportedly developing a phone catering to its TikTok app – even though history suggests is a bad idea.
If you have to ask what TikTok is, you're obviously not among the billion people who have downloaded the app to date.
In short, it's an iOS and Android application that enables users to create and share short videos (of up to 60 seconds) and music videos (up to 15 seconds) – and clearly ByteDance believes that its wild popularity is enough to make it one of the best camera phones.
According to a report (behind a paywall) in the Financial Times, ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming has “long dreamt” of creating a smartphone consisting of preloaded software such as TikTok, as well as the company's other successful apps like News Republic and content aggregator TopBuzz / Toutiao.
The FT's industry sources claim that ByteDance is not only actively working on the new product, but is handling the project in-house rather than farming it out to a traditional smartphone manufacturer.
This would seem to connect the dots of the ByteDance's purchase of phone company Smartisan earlier this year, bringing both valuable patents and an experienced workforce under its umbrella.
No suggestion of design or specifications were given, though it's fair to assume that it will be aimed at a more youthful audience – and thus might carry a lighter price tag. It would also make sense, for a media-focused device, for it to carry a competitive camera array.
As noted, though, history hasn't seen app-focused phones fare very well. The Android Fire and the HTC First 'Facebook phone' were both infamous disasters – the latter in particular suffering from the fact that you can download its killer app on any other phone, which is an issue also facing the TikTok product.
Other potential problems include the US government's blacklisting of Chinese phone manufacturers, as well as ByteDance's run-ins with the Indian government (which previously banned TikTok).
Still, a billion downloads is nothing to be sniffed at – we'll be reserving judgement until we see something more concrete, but it's certainly an interesting development.