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Facebook looks to lure app developers from rivals

Wednesday, 29 February 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

Facebook plans to help app developers bypass the app stores of its rivals on mobile phones, and will also help them understand which mobile browsers support the functionality of their apps.


Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Facebook chief technology officer Brett Taylor said Facebook and mobile “were made for each other”.


In its IPO filing, Facebook said more than half of its 845 million active users access the site from a mobile device, highlighting its intention to hone in on the mobile market.


However, Facebook is yet to figure out how to make money from mobile. The vast majority of its $3.7 billion revenue last year came from advertisements delivered to desktop users.


The social media giant has admitted that it makes no money in mobile at present, but mobile usage will be “critical to help us grow our user base over the long-term”.


Taylor reiterated this at the MWC, insisting Facebook is “fundamentally” a mobile product.


However, the take-up of applications such as Facebook on mobiles has been largely restricted to the app stores on either Apple iPhones or handsets that use Google’s Android operating system.


That means developers have to share some of their revenue with Apple or Google, which many app developers are increasingly unhappy about.


A major problem is that HTML5 – the language standard for the mobile web – is applied differently for each of the 2500 mobile devices in the market, Taylor said.


“There’s rampant technology fragmentation across mobile browsers, so developers don’t know which parts of HTML5 they can use to deliver their app to customers,” he said.


To make HTML5 a more attractive and economic proposition for app developers, Facebook will work with mobile and technology companies to agree to standards appropriate for mobile apps.


It will also create a mobile web standards test suite called Ringmark, which is designed to help developers understand which mobile browsers support the functionality their apps need.


Taylor said Facebook has also teamed up with large mobile operators to design a single-step payment system for billing.


He said Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android provide developers with an easy payment system with stored customer credentials, but there is no such standard system for the mobile web.


“The payments experience is just broken for end users. Even for operating billing, most purchases require SMS device verification,” Taylor said.


“If I want to purchase a US99 cents level in a game, I have to wait for an SMS to arrive to verify this device is attached to my account.”


“[Then] I have to memorise a code, type it into the browser and resubmit the transaction. If I make it this far, I can go back to playing my game. Most customers don’t make it that far.”


In a bid to rectify this, Facebook has partnered with AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, T-Mobile USA, Verizon, Vodafone, KDDI and SOFTBANK MOBILE Corp.


These mobile operators will be able to work with app developers to integrate operating billing into their apps.