Facebook has thrown its hat in to the mobile and desktop application ring, announcing its very own Facebook App Center, now open to developers as a beta. The Facebook App Center (FAC) represents a potential huge step forward in Facebook’s continuing domination of the social network scene. It also raises a few questions and possible consequences that could affect the future of the smartphone market as a whole.
What is the Facebook App Center?
First we’ll cover the basics. The Facebook App Center is set to be a new application store, much like the Apple App Store or Google Play (formerly Android Market). The FAC will support apps for both iOS and Android, as well as have a third section specifically for HTML5 web apps designed for PCs and Macs.
Both Facebook-owned and third-party apps will be available from the FAC. Qualifying for app submission sounds simple enough, Facebook’s own eligibility section lays down some straight-forward guidelines:
- An app on Facebook.com in a canvas page
- A mobile app built for the web, iOS or Android that uses Facebook Login
- A website that uses Facebook Login and has an immediately logged-in, personalized experience (see App Quality for more info)
- An App for Pages built to manage or enhance other companies’ Facebook Pages
The key point to focus on here is that every app requires a Facebook Login option, but we’ll come back to that later.
Right now it’s unclear exactly how users will access and download apps, but what we have seen looks pretty straight forward, even if it doesn’t quite sound that simple. Facebook isn’t planning to use a Top 25 system like the Apple App Store. Instead that eerie Facebook tendency to show you only stuff that you’re interested in will be implemented. Apps that you have viewed, liked or already downloaded will decide what apps will appear at the top of your list. It’s probably safe to assume that your greater actions across Facebook as a whole will also have an impact on this. Smart money is also on app suggestions appearing on the right side of your Facebook screen, where ads and suggested friends currently reside.
There are a few points of interest that immediately came to mind for us when reading about this new app store and Facebook’s approach regarding its implementation.
No Windows Phone Support
Windows Phone is already suffering from a lack of app support. It’s been making great strides in fixing this deficiency, but the exclusion of WP apps from the FAC could prove to be another significant roadblock in Microsoft’s way.
It also highlights that, while Android has become an accepted mainstream devices in the eyes of big companies, Windows Phone still apparently has a way to go. It’s more than likely that Facebook would have included Windows Phone apps if the move promised to be sufficiently profitable. The exclusion of it suggests that Facebook doesn’t have faith that this would be so.
Facebook Login for Apps
It’s already pretty common for apps to have Facebook as a login option. Most apps that do offer either Facebook integration also have the option of creating a separate account, usually email-based which in turn usually means Gmail-based. Of course, plenty of apps don’t offer Facebook as a login option and rely on email (read: Gmail) as a reference. This is where FAC may prove to have an impact on the mobile industry and the internet as a whole.
Right now Google and Facebook are waging a war for how you find things on the web. At the outset, Google would appear to be winning that battle, with a huge percentage of users opting for Google as their search engine or Home Page. Google also owns YouTube, the largest distributor of video content of all kinds in the world. Google is also the powerhouse behind Android – the penultimate mobile OS in today’s smartphone and tablet markets.
However, what you probably don’t see or notice is all of the things Facebook is doing in the background. Link to something on your Facebook timeline and every time it’s shared will count as another link. Google’s search engine algorithms (and those of other search engines) rely heavily on natural linkage to assist in ranking a page’s validity and value. Each link htat a page gets regarding specific phrases etc bumps up that page’s search engine ranking. Google might still be the one doing the searching, but Facebook is very much guiding Google on where to look.
Most websites will also have a “Like”, “Share” or thumbs-up button that automatically links to whatever Facebook account is already logged-in on that computer or device. This is just another way that Facebook encourages its users to link to articles and websites on their timelines. The number of “Likes” a page gets is also becoming a form of measuring said page’s popularity, success and quality.
Facebook also helps you find things in the real world by encouraging the inhabitants of your news feed to share their real world experiences and comment on them, even going as far as to “check in” and locate themselves on a map. That’s 900 million active users, most of who share their daily lives freely and regularly share opinions on venues, stores, products etc.
On top of that many websites, such as this one, are set up to automatically post videos and articles to their Facebook subscribers, rather than turning to RSS feeds like Google Reader. This system circumnavigates the need to use a search engine entirely, relying on solely Facebook links to help users navigate the web.
Of course Google has its own counters to all of this, such as Google+, but almost every attempt by Google to move in on Facebook’s turf has been relatively unsuccessful. For instance: Google+ has very few active users compared to the number of its accounts. Another example would be the question “how often to you sign in to a third-party service using a Google account compared to your Facebook account?” If the answer is anything other than “never” there’s a good bit that the Google service you’re referring to is your Gmail address, which is the very thing that Facebook will be aiming to eliminate as a sign-up tool with this move.
Now, it’s safe to assume that an app store launched by Facebook is going to be an adequately executed affair. Moreover, by the simple act of being a Facebook service it’s likely to see a huge amount of early adoption. As such there’s really no reason for future app developers to not include a Facebook login option in order to be eligible to post their apps on the Facebook App Center to obtain a wider level of exposure for their product. It’s a simple and effective way of ensuring that Facebook becomes the dominant means through which service accounts are created, rather than having people use their Gmail accounts.
Google might see itself lost one of the few remaining inlets to the social media world that it has going for it if Gmail sign-ups to third party apps go the way of the dinosaur.
Can Facebook and Apple Play Nice?
While it’s easy to see how the Facebook App Center will work with Android when you look at pre-existing third party Android app stores such as the Amazon Android Marketplace, it’s difficult to see how iPhone integration will work here.
Traditionally, when it comes to profits, Apple is very much that kid in the playground who never wanted to share. Just about everything on your iPhone is done and tracked via iTunes. This is a nifty little method of managing product quality for Apple, while maintaining enough control to take a piece of the profit from everything you throw on your iDevice.
If Facebook is planning to sell iPhone apps, how will that work with Apple’s current business model? If Facebook is to act like a middle-man, taking its own cut of each app sold and passing on the rest of the profits to Apple that could mean a bump in price for any iOS app sold on the FAC. If the prices are not raised, that would suggest that Apple is taking a hit on the percentage, which hardly seems like something Apple would willingly do.
The same question can be asked for in-app purchases. Currently on iOS in-app purchases work the same way as a direct-app purchase: the developer takes most of the money while Apple takes a decent percentage. It’s intriguing to wonder where Facebook will fit in to all of this. Will an app bought from the Facebook App Center have a different in-app purchase model that filters money to both Apple and Facebook, reducing the cut of the developer? There’s a myriad of questions that we’d love to see the answer to regarding this entire affair. Unfortunately they’re none too forthcoming right now so we’ll probably have to wait until the FAC’s impending full-release.
At the end of the day Facebook creating its own app store really makes sense. It’s not something that had to happen, but it’s definitely no shock, either. It’s also a move that could prove to see massive, slow-moving repercussions in the smartphone industry. Alternatively, it might ultimately change nothing at all.
Right now we’re mostly just keen to give it a go and put its offerings and overall execution up against pre-existing app marketplaces. If Facebook can come out with anything new or better than what we already have in place then that’s good enough for us. As we’ve seen countless times in the mobile industry good, unique ideas don’t stay unique for too long. It’s a smartphone world and those who take to long to keep up usually end up in dangerous or irretrievably hopeless situations just like WebOS, BlackBerry and Nokia.