To close a self-described gap written into its IPO, Facebook announced that it is launching App Center, a repository for applications that will run within Facebook, iOS, or Android devices. Facebook says it will launch App Center "in the next few weeks" and that it fundamentally changes the way Facebook advertises, distributes, and profits from applications.
App Center will largely be modeled after Apple's App Store or Google Play in that it will be a single location for apps that are submitted by developers and approved by Facebook. Facebook says not all apps will be approved and that it has the right to reject any that doesn't meet its standards. This isn't to say that Facebook is opening a store to directly compete with Apple or Google. In fact it will frequently refer users directly to Apple or Google to install the app, so it might be more like a gatekeeper sitting in front of other stores.
For example, if a Facebook user wants to install the popular Pictionary type game Draw Something, App Center will determine which device is making the request and send it to the appropriate store. One of the developer requirements is that apps authenticate through Facebook. This creates a single sign-on for all things Facebook and a seamless platform where all applications are integrated. In this way, even though you might be using an app that you downloaded for your iOS device, you're never really leaving the Facebook ecosystem and the social network will be integrated into every mobile app.
App Center addresses two key shortcomings of Facebook. Search is a notoriously weak feature and until now, cross platform integration has been non-existent. Facebook has watched its mobile growth swell--21% from October to January--yet it hasn't developed an advertising platform to match the one it has for the desktop. Facebook amended its IPO specifically detailing the limitations of ad revenue it can generate with mobile. App Center will allow developers to charge for applications. This is new. Until now, games could charge for additional items, but not for the app itself. Facebook would get a percentage of the proceeds.
Right now, to add an app to your page, Facebook directs you to "first go to the App About Page for the app you'd like to add. If the app is available to be added to your Page, you'll see an Add to Page link on the lower left-hand column. Note that certain apps may not be available for Pages. If you have any questions about those apps, please use the Contact Developer link in the App About Page to inquire."
When researching this story on my netbook, I was reminded of the confusion I've had while searching for relevant apps. For example, to add the investor service Motley Fool, I chose Apps in the left column, clicked 'more', and searched "Motley." I was directed to Facebook pages, Apps, and people named Motley. There was more than one Motley Fool app. Without a description, all I could do was click and see--a dangerous act on the Web, especially when businesses are not restricting and even encouraging employees to explore Facebook. The search was no easier on my iPad. Googling "Business apps for Facebook" was much easier. Like most Facebook users, I usually discover apps by getting invitations from friends, which at times can be too insular.
App Center is a winning move for the social giant. For developers, it will be a way to charge for their apps and compete for success based on merit using metrics such as user ratings and engagement. Facebook also is introducing a new app ratings system to report how users rate apps over time. Score poorly and you will lose your listing. All apps will require a Facebook login to be listed in App Center.
For users, App Center offers:
- a central hub where apps have been vetted to a greater degree by Facebook,
- single sign-in,
- cross platform communication, and
- a page detailing what each app promises to do and not do
For Facebook, App Center is a bridge from the browser-based environment as it was born five eight years ago to an increasingly mobile multi-platform where a user might never have a reason to leave. Not so long ago Facebook might have partnered with HTC on the development of a smartphone to run a version of Android, in which case it would have had the hardware, the OS, the apps, and nearly a billion users.