Facebook App Center promises to make it easier for users to find apps and developers to make money. Only about 600 apps greet users at launch.
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Facebook on Thursday launched App Center, its take on the Web-based app store, as it said it would a week before its initial public offering misfired in mid-May.
The App Center joins a growing number of app stores modeled after Apple's iTunes App Store, which debuted in July 2008. Apple claims a trademark on the term App Store, which may explain why Facebook is launching an App Center.
The App Center is nonetheless a store where Facebook users may find and acquire apps, for free or a fee. Facebook is allowing its developers to charge up front for their apps for the first time. Previously, the primary monetization option for Facebook developers involved in-app purchases.
Facebook's App Center provides access to Web apps, Android apps, iOS apps, and desktop apps with Facebook integration. While Facebook is offering its developers the opportunity to charge for their Facebook apps, it's not charging money for other types of apps. Instead, its fee is information.
For example, a user who finds an iOS app that he or she wants that is listed in Facebook's App Center can't install it directly. Instead of a Buy button, the App Center provides a Send To Mobile button.
Clicking on Send To Mobile sends a notification with a referral link to the user's Facebook mobile app, even as it makes the user's Facebook information available to the app publisher. This includes the user's name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends, any other information made public, and email address.
The notification sent to the user's mobile device says that the selected mobile app "is ready to play on your mobile device." But it's not ready to play; it must still be downloaded. Clicking on the notification takes the user to the appropriate mobile app store to actually download and install the app.
For developers, the potential upside is considerable. By integrating Facebook's login system, developers may be able to get their apps in front of Facebook's 845 million users. For the few apps featured in the App Store with prominent placement or called out in showcase menus labeled "Top Rated", "Trending", "Recommended", or "Friends", downloads are likely to increase. Whether exposure in the App Center will translate into more users for apps that haven't made it big already remains to be seen.
However, Facebook's App Center has one thing going for it that Apple's iTunes App Store and Google Play do not: an app shortage. App Center has only about 600 apps at launch. Any app in the App Center at the moment is likely to get a lot more attention than an app lost among the 725,000+ apps in Apple's App Store or the 500,000+ apps available through Google Play. Sometimes, less is more.
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