While Facebook released its video calling feature yesterday, something much more interesting may be coming, possibly later this month. It is called Project Spartan.
Our interpretation of TechCrunch’s posts about Spartan is that Facebook will do for mobile what it did for its regular web version before: upgrade its “application” status to “platform”. A few years ago Facebook started enabling developers to build applications into Facebook, integrating them with the timeline, getting access to friend information etc. This enabled companies such as Zynga to create incredibly successful social games. Since that launch, Facebook is no longer just a website, it has become a social platform — the social platform.
Soon, Facebook will do the same thing for mobile.
There is a big difference in landscape, however. On the desktop, Facebook is primarily accessed through the web browser. On mobile, this is not yet the case. The majority of users access Facebook through one of its native applications. With Project Spartan, Facebook will go for a hefty HTML5 push.
Why? Freedom and portability.
Freedom from Apple’s restrictions on the ability to extend the functionality of iOS applications on the fly, by downloading new code — which is disallowed by the iOS developer terms. This means that it would not be allowed to let external developers extend the Facebook mobile app the way they can extend the regular web Facebook.
Portability: Facebook is maintaining about a dozen mobile applications right now. It would be a breath of fresh air to drop a few of those in favor of HTML5 implementations.
If it’s true, Facebook will essentially be launching an alternative AppStore, with its own set of APIs and own payment system. Still, a lot of questions remain: how will developers develop for this new platform, will there be tools available? Will it come with a custom set of Facebook-style user interface controls? How are the applications hosted?
According to TechCrunch the focus will initially be on iOS (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch). Presumably to get the experience right without having to deal with the idiosyncrasies between mobile browsers. After the initial launch, it will quickly spread to Android and other platforms as well.
(Supposedly leaked screenshots of the service.)
Even if you are not interested in Facebook, this will be a development to watch: it could mean a big push for HTML5 on mobile if Facebook pulls this off. In the end, it will all depend on what the experience will be, and if its applications are attractive enough.