Facebook Takes a Bite out of the App(le) World

Posted By Lisa Becker In Digital Strategy 08/22/2011

Move over App Store:  Here comes Project Spartan!

Did you know that U.S. smartphone users now spend more time using web applications per day than they do using the desktop and mobile Web?  As of June, app analytics and advertising firm Flurry stated that time spent with mobile apps per day per person reached an average of 81 minutes compared to 74 minutes on the Web.  As mobile app usage proliferates, it looks like Facebook seeks to overtake Apple’s App Store with Project Spartan, its own mobile app platform.

So how will it work?  Project Spartan will be a browser-based cloud platform that will run apps within Facebook via the mobile Safari browser.  Unlike many prior apps utilizing Flash technology, which Apple does not support, Project Spartan apps are HTML5-based web apps which are fully supported by Apple and iOS. Facebook will almost certainly include Android as a part of this platform in the future but the first and most imminent target is mobile Safari running on iOS devices.  Facebook is believed to have partnered with roughly 80 outside developers including Zynga and Huffington Post to develop apps for Project Spartan that range from games to news readers.  All apps, both paid and unpaid, would run from the web and essentially circumvent Apple’s App Store.  Given that games and social networking are the most popular categories of mobile apps, together accounting for 80% of all time spent on apps, Project Spartan may just be a stroke of genius.

Hype aside, would Project Spartan actually work?  Since the news of its development hit the web it already has its share of critics.  One doubt is that Project Spartan will be able to employ a payment system as easy to use as App Store.  Evidently Facebook is intending to have credits built in to allow developers to sell apps and offer in-app purchases.  Whether or not this will be feasible to create and administer is unknown.  Secondly, in comparison to Apple App Store which is easy to navigate to from the iPhone/iPad’s main screen, utilizing the Project Spartan platform would require users to open a browser window, navigate to Facebook, further navigate to the Project Spartan app page and utilize applications running in a browser window rather than on the device itself.  In this author’s humble opinion, Project Spartan may introduce an element of competition to the mobile application landscape but is highly unlikely to make the App Store obsolete.  

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