Australian developers are cautiously optimistic that Facebook’s decision to turn Facebook Messenger into an app platform will help strengthen the app industry. Facebook announced the decision during its F8 conference in San Francisco, with third party developers able to develop apps that extend the messaging platform’s functionality. Full details of Facebook’s new Messenger Platform API are available on its developers site. The announcement was made alongside the unveiling of its new Business on Messenger customer service functionality and also comes a little over a week after Facebook added a feature allowing users to transfer money directly to their friends’ debit card accounts. While BlackBerry’s rival secure mobile messaging platform BBM (which is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone as well as on BlackBerry 10 devices) has long offered similar functionality, its platform APIs are restricted to BlackBerry devices. (Ironically, Facebook is among the apps to take advantage of this API.) Klyp mobile lead Tyson Bradford told StartupSmart the Facebook Messenger Platform API is very exciting news for app developers. “From an app developer’s perspective, this is very exciting. It looks like, instead of having to roll out their own messaging system, they’ll be able to piggyback off Facebook Messenger to provide that messaging functionality,” Bradford says. “So for example, say you were developing a jobs marketplace app. Instead of needing to write your own code from scratch to facilitate that functionality, you can just plug and play Facebook’s messaging API. “It actually reminds me a bit of a similar service a few months ago the developer community was very excited about, by a company called Layer.com. The only problem is that users had to create a second account to send messages. Because 98% of app users will already have a Facebook account with a friend list already, getting people to log in once with their Facebook account won’t be an issue.” Marcus Lim, co-founder and chief executive of online marketplace Oneflare, told StartupSmart he was already looking at integrating a mobile messaging platform, such as WhatsApp, even before Facebook’s announcement. “One of the issues is communications between customers and service providers before a job is carried out, and after they use the Oneflare platform. The issue is that businesses ring customers, but customers aren’t always available to take the call. “Messaging works well because it’s less intrusive. The communications are often quite brief – such as when and where a particular job needs to be performed – and messaging avoids the issues of both parties needing to set up a call.” However, realAs chief executive Josh Rowe told StartupSmart while there are advantages to Facebook opening up its APIs, there are also risks. “My initial view is that being able to tap into the massive user database of Facebook is a good thing. After all, realAs is a community of people looking to buy houses, and being able to tap into those databases could be advantageous to the community,” Rowe says. “However, the con side is how much we can trust Facebook, and to what degree we control our data. We’ve seen in the past the way big companies have opened up their platforms to outside developers, only to cut off access to those APIs down the track. “And just look at the way Apple has copied people’s app ideas and created its own versions of them. So there needs to be assurances that Facebook will remain a neutral player and won’t end up competing with the startups that use this.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Buy tickets to the 2015 StartupSmart Awards.
Google has announced it is going to begin introducing paid search results for apps into its Google Play app store, with the news drawing a mixed reaction from Australian app developers. Under the changes, sponsored results will soon begin appearing at the top of search queries in Google Play in a manner similar to Google’s web search results. The move is designed to help the search giant to monetise the global installed base of its Android operating system, which runs on around 1 billion devices globally. According to figures published by Kantar Worldpanel last year, smartphones running Google’s Android operating system account for around 58.1% of the Australian market, meaning the Google Play app store is also a significant gatekeeper in the local market. David Mah, co-founder of mobile shopping app BlueSky, told StartupSmart he was among the app developers approached to participate in a trial of the paid ads, but turned down the invitation. “They approached us to do just that, but we didn’t go ahead with it. Apple also approached us for something similar by putting us at the top of their app store on the front page. We were their top shopping app for 2014, and [Apple] didn’t charge us for that,” Mah says. Klyp mobile lead Tyson Bradford told StartupSmart if the ads work like Google’s existing search ads, it will be advantageous for app developers to look at the ads as a channel to build exposure. “The apps stores can be hard to navigate and get to new content on. You’re trying to view over a million apps on a four-inch screen. Especially if Google gets the contextual part right, this is going to be valuable for app developers,” Bradford says. “It’s not going to cost you millions of dollars to get an ad on there, but if they put down $50 their ads won’t be there as long as someone with a million dollar budget. So it could be more cost-effective for app developers than other mobile channels.” Zoom2u cofounder Steve Orenstein told StartupSmart the benefits of advertising will vary depending on what marketplace each app serves. “In our instance there could be some relevance – gaming apps might be more relevant because people search for those a lot. If it’s good, it will give Google a new revenue stream while adding value for app developers,” Orenstein says. Meanwhile, Freight Exchange co-founder and chief executive Cate Hull told StartupSmart she hopes the news prompts Apple to improve its search results. “Anything that improves Apple’s search results will be great for users and developers,” Hull says. In a post on Google’s official Android Developers Blog, Google Play product management director Michael Siliski said that in the coming weeks, selected users will begin to see ads in the app marketplace from a pilot group of advertisers. “With more than 100 billion searches every month on Google.com, we’ve seen how search ads shown next to organic search results on Google.com can significantly improve content discovery for users and advertisers, both large and small,” Siliski said. “Search ads on Google Play will enable developers to drive more awareness of their apps and provide consumers new ways to discover apps that they otherwise might have missed.” Image credit: Flickr/ashkyd Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.