Developing mobile Web apps will get easier if Facebook has its way. The company launched initiatives to standardize apps for different Web browsers on different platforms, and to make mobile payments easier.
The initiatives, if successful, will increase the attractiveness of the mobile Web as a platform alternative to device-specific apps, making life easier for marketers looking to roll out branded applications for mobile devices.
Facebook sees more traffic from the mobile Web than from all of its top native apps combined, according to a post on the Facebook Developers blog. "So why aren't more people building apps for the mobile Web?" Facebook asks, and responds with three answers: "App discovery," meaning it's hard for consumers to find apps on the mobile Web; "mobile browser fragmentation," meaning that mobile Web apps display differently in different browsers on different devices; and difficulty processing payments. Facebook says it's addressing all three problems.
Start with browser fragmentation. Facebook joined the W3C Mobile Web Platform Core Community Group, an alliance of 30 device manufacturers, carriers, and developers to standardize mobile browsers.
Participants in the group include Samsung, HTC, Sony, Nokia, Huawei, AT&T, Verizon, Mozilla, Opera, Microsoft, Adobe, Netflix, and WalmartLabs. Missing from the list are three giant mobile phone platform vendors: Apple, Google, and Research in Motion. It remains to be seen how much the alliance can get done without those voices. Possibly quite a lot; even without the support of those three, the other companies can still do a lot to reduce conflicts.
For streamlining payments, Facebook is working with operators to minimize the number of steps required to complete a transaction in mobile Web apps. Developers will be able to use the new payment processing system when they integrate the Facebook Pay Dialog into an app. Operators working with Facebook include AT&T, T-Mobile USA, Verizon, and major overseas carriers.
And to help consumers discover apps -- in other words, helping developers publicize their apps -- developers can connect their apps to Facebook's Open Graph. Facebook has been publicizing iOS and mobile Web apps since October, and plans to extend that support to native Android apps.
Marketers and other app developers struggle with whether to develop native apps or just write good mobile Websites. Each approach
has advantages. Native apps are more effective than Web apps for now, but Facebook's initiatives have the potential to narrow that gap.
The payment-processing initiative is interesting in another way: It's a big step moving Facebook beyond being just a big Website to becoming a provider of services for other Websites and applications. Facebook already does that by providing sign-in and authentication for other Websites; payment would be another big piece of that strategy.
This is looking like an important week for Facebook. On Wednesday, the company has a big conference for marketers at which it will probably announce new ad formats as it needs to ramp up revenue and profits to feed its upcoming May IPO.
Do the new initiatives make Facebook more attractive for brands? Are they good for marketers?
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— Mitch Wagner , Editor in Chief, The CMO Site