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Facebook HTML5 platform to expand reach for app developers

Facebook wants to take a bigger bit out of the growing mobile app marketplace with reports that it is readying an HTML5 platform that will work on the iPhone and iPad.

Facebook this week introduced an integration with Skype to enable video chat and a photo-sharing app. However, the bigger news for mobile app developers appears to be that the new HTML5 platform will be coming very soon and that it will work on the iPhone and iPad.

?This enables third party developers that to reach end users in a broad way and not have to go through the iTunes App Store,? said Neil Strother, Kirkland, WA-based practice director at ABI Research.

With Facebook?s large user base, such a platform would provide developers with significant scale if the app discovery process takes place on Facebook.

Facebook has 700 million users and over 250 million mobile users.

Comparable experience
For large developers that have the resources to create apps for multiple platforms, this may not be a big deal. But, for smaller developers it could provide a way to reach mobile users more efficiently.

?If I?m a smaller shop ? and there are a lot of smaller shops out there ? and mobile is important for me, I can now reach other non-smartphone users who have a browser,? Mr. Strother said.

The news could be good for consumers as well.

?HTML4 allows for better rendering, use of services, delivery of content and helps mobile apps run more smoothly over the mobile Internet,? Mr. Strother said.

However, it is a developing standard and will not be finished for years.

What is already available is a way to display video without the need for Flash.

An HTML5 platform would also enable consumers to have an experience that is very similar to what they have with downloaded apps.

?This gives consumers another reason to go to Facebook and make it their online hub,? Mr. Strother said.

Numerous developers are also reportedly working on the project. 

The platform is expected to be entirely HTML5-based and to work in mobile Safari.

Such a platform could put a dent in Apple?s dominance in mobile app distribution if Facebook were to become a mobile app destination for consumers.

However, some reports suggest that Facebook is working with Apple on this project.

Such a partnership would make some sense since Apple has been a big supporter of HTML5.

Additionally, Apple has shown an interest in social networking but has not gotten very far on its own in the space. 

Big discovery
However, one of the questions raised by a Facebook HTML5 platform is how the discovery process for apps will be addressed. Right now, many consumers know to go to the iTunes App Store or other app marketplaces to find new apps.

?The big question this raises is how do people find apps," Mr. Strother said. ?Getting the discovery question solved will be key for Facebook.?

One possibility is that Facebook will create a natural discovery process that happens as users share and interact with basic Facebook capabilities. For example, a user?s page could highlight their favorite apps so that anybody with access to that page could access the app.

Another possibility is that app developers will run advertising on Facebook to promote their apps.

?This would take people out of the App Store loop,? Mr. Strother said. 

?Potentially there is money that would not go to Apple if developers create an economic engine for an app,? he said.

However, Apple has said it makes most of its money from its devices and related accessories.

?This will affect Apple some but, I don?t think it is quacking in its boots over this,? Mr. Strother said. ?They take a cut of applications but they don?t make a lot of money from the App Store.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode, Assoc. Editor, Mobile Marketer