2011-06-17

Facebook is working on a mobile HTML5-based app platform to compete with Apple

The article “Project Spartan: Facebook’s Hush-Hush Plan To Take On Apple On Their Own Turf: iOS” [via Daring Fireball] describes Facebook’s plan’s for a new mobile application platform that is based on HTML5. Quote:
As we understand it, Project Spartan is the codename for a new platform Facebook is on verge of launching. It’s entirely HTML5-based and the aim is to reach some 100 million users in a key place: mobile. More specifically, the initial target is both surprising and awesome: mobile Safari.
[...]
As of right now, there are believed to be 80 or so outside developers working with Facebook on Project Spartan. These teams are working on apps for the platform that range from games to news-reading apps.
[...]
[Facebook intends] to have Credits built-in to alloy developers to sell apps and offer in-app purchases.
The main target (at least initially) seems to be Apple and its iOS app store. The article mentions that while Twitter now provides single sign-on for OS X Lion, Facebook was initially the preferred choice [1]. So something must have happened behind the scenes. Similarly, in September 2010, Apple and Facebook weren’t able to reach an agreement on integrating Facebook with the iTunes Music Store. Quoting [2]:
After introducing Ping on Wednesday, Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, was asked why Apple built its own social network, rather than, say, build services on top of Facebook, as other music sites have done. Mr. Jobs, who was strolling around a demo room where reporters could try Apple’s new products, said that Apple considered that and held discussions with Facebook, but that the social networking company’s terms were “onerous.”
Facebook is making a smart move by creating a web-based application platform. It might also fit in with their declared plan to consolidate the development of their clients via HTML5 [3]. Quote from [3]:
“When we update something, there are about 7 different versions we have to update,” [Facebook CTO] Taylor said. He rattled off a few: facebook.com, m.facebook.com, touch.facebook.com, the iPhone version, the Android version, etc.
The facebook.com webapp recently seems to be showing its age: Things don’t always work and everything feels disorganized. Another sign is that its global namespace in JavaScript is polluted with variables [as noted by Béla Varga], which smacks of legacy code. So maybe this new platform allows them to do a general clean up.

The open question is: Do we really need yet another app store? We already have Google’s and Mozilla’s webapp stores, let alone the many native app stores (iOS, Android, Amazon, etc.). But Facebook’s entry into this market will at least increase the visibility of web technology as a foundation for “serious” apps. Mobile is the current target, so apps will initially be small, but that will change over time.

Related reading:

  1. Signs Of What Could Have Been: iOS Hooked Up With Facebook Before Marrying Twitter
  2. Apple-Facebook Friction Erupts Over Ping
  3. Facebook’s Focus In 2011: Better Cross-Platform Unification Led By HTML5
  4. Yes, Despite All The HTML5 Talk (And Action), Facebook Is Finally Doing An iPad App

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