Europe News

Facebook in Smartphone Apps Move

Tim Bradshaw, Financial Times

Facebook is in the advanced stages of developing mobile applications that will for the first time bring games and other apps that work on its web platform to smartphones.

Mark Zuckerberg
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The move is likely to cause controversy for Apple as Facebook’s “apps within an app” model could break Apple’s rules for software on its iPhone and iPad. Facebook is expected to release apps for Apple products and Google’s Android smartphones next month, according to people familiar with its plans.

Third-party apps will run inside a “wrapper” within Facebook’s “native” app and updates from friends using them will be incorporated into a mobile version of its new live “ticker”.

Screenshots from guidelines for “social mobile web app” developers emerged on the TechCrunch website on Thursday after being accidentally published by Facebook. It reported that the launch could come as soon as next week. However, one developer told the Financial Times the timescale was “fluid”, depending on the readiness of app developers and discussions with Apple.

Facebook and Apple declined to comment.

Games such as Zynga’s Cityville and EA’s The Sims Social are among the most popular third-party apps on Facebook, played by tens of millions of people a day.

But their absence from Facebook’s mobile apps diminishes the social network’s appeal for new users in emerging markets who use it primarily on phones.

Some Facebook executives expect the majority of its members will be mobile users within two years, although its iPhone app has been criticised by users recently for unreliability. Facebook’s new mobile platform will allow developers of games and other apps to use HTML5 – an evolution of the language in which websites are written – to replicate apps on different platforms and avoid Apple’s lengthy approval process when making changes.

In social gaming, updates are made several times a week – impossible under Apple’s regime.

Facebook is considering whether to allow use of its virtual currency, Credits, to enable the buying of items within games. Apple bans in-app purchasing that does not go via its own payments system and it takes a 30 per cent cut of all transactions through its App Store.

Facebook’s app is the most popular in iPhone’s four-year history, giving the social network leverage that could allow for special dispensation from Apple.

But such an exemption would open up Apple to criticism from other developers using its App Store.

It has been reported that Facebook could join Apple at its iPhone launch next week to unveil the social network’s long-awaited iPad app. But the two companies’ relationship has been rocky in the past, especially around Apple’s decision to incorporate Twitter, a Facebook rival, into the next version of its operating system.