Published October 11, 2011
Facebook users previously had to use their computers for most of their Facebook gaming and app needs, but now they should be able to play and participate from almost any device with a web browser -- and they may get a better experience if it happens to be an Apple iOS device.
Though this launch had been described as an affront to Apple, the new Facebook mobile versions will defer to Apple's native platform and even its payments system whenever possible.
A big reason why Facebook apps, especially games, did not work on phones was because iOS devices do not support Flash. Facebook has helped a select set of developers -- Audiovroom, Branchout, Flixster, Gilt Groupe, Huffington Post, EA, Moblyng, Storm8, Wooga and Zynga -- create HTML5 versions of a selection of their apps and game titles that will work in mobile web browsers.
But HTML5 still does not offer the performance that many complex apps require, so if the developers have created native versions of their apps, they can also connect Facebook users directly to that native app.
Now, when a friend sends you an invitation to play Words With Friends, and you view it on the Facebook app on your iPhone, you can click to play and be taken to the Words With Friends app. If you do not have the app, you will be directed to Apple's App Store.
If you are using an Android phone, you will be taken to an HTML5 version in your mobile web browser. Facebook CTO Bret Taylor told AllThingsD Monday that Facebook is also working on an update to its native Android application.
While many people will appreciate having a more consistent Facebook app experience, this launch also should make it much easier for users to find new mobile apps through their friends. Mobile app discovery has been a huge challenge for developers, and social could help unlock that problem by showing people what apps their friends are using.
"We really hope that we can fill a gap in app discovery here," Taylor said.
On the downside, there is one place Facebook was not able to negotiate a consistent experience for users: payments, which was a major sticking point in ongoing discussions with Apple.
Facebook Credits cannot be used to pay for virtual goods in native iOS apps or mobile web apps running within a Facebook app on iOS. Instead, users will have to buy separate in-app currency through Apple's own in-app payment system. The move comes after Facebook just required all of its game developers to switch to exclusive use of Credits earlier this year.
"We realize there's some inconsistency," Taylor admitted. He would not say if Facebook gets a share of revenue for in-app purchases it refers to Apple.
As for the Facebook iPad app, it has been close to being released for over a year, according to people who have seen it and worked on it -- though the app has changed in scope throughout.
Along with the ability to use Facebook platform apps, the iPad version will feature "an immersive and full-screen photos experience," plus new and speedy chat and messages interfaces, Taylor said.