Facebook today announced that nearly 200,000 iPhone and Android apps connect with Facebook and 45 percent of the top grossing iOS apps integrate the social network’s SDK, shining light on how the company’s mobile strength goes beyond its own apps.
At our Inside Social Apps conference in New York this week, there was a lot of discussion about which platforms to build on. For many developers, it’s still a common question about whether to build for Facebook or for mobile. Although Facebook does offer a vertical platform where apps can be used within the Facebook.com canvas, what’s often not discussed is how Facebook can be integrated horizontally across any other platform.
“We hear a lot, ‘Should I build a Facebook app or an iOS app, an Android app?'” Facebook’s Director of Platform Partnerships David Fisch said Monday during a fireside chat with Inside Network Managing Editor AJ Glasser. “Facebook is complementary to all of these. Since we’ve started, we’ve talked about how it’s a social layer. It started with web and now moved to mobile. Because there are so many different devices and you want to connect people across them, by definition, Facebook has to be part of all of them.”
An iOS app can be a Facebook app. A mobile website can be a Facebook app. A console game can be a Facebook app. Your car, your shoes, your credit card or your toothbrush can be Facebook apps.
The misperception that Facebook apps are limited to those on Facebook.com contributes to skepticism about the company’s longterm potential, especially on mobile. The market hears that users and developers are turning to “mobile games” over “Facebook games” and starts to count Facebook out. The reality is that nine of the 10 top grossing iOS apps connect with Facebook. The majority of the top Open Graph applications — those using Facebook’s latest sharing features — are open web and mobile integrations. In fact, six of the top 10 apps with the most monthly active users connecting with Facebook aren’t canvas apps. They range from websites to mobile apps to desktop software.
Facebook has been talking about being a “social layer” since 2008, and yet it’s still largely regarded as a single channel for developers. What does Facebook have to do to prove its horizontal platform is worth talking about for every mobile app, website or web-connected device?
The early adopters help legitimize the concept, but swings in app usage due to News Feed changes leave doubt for some. Still, there are a lot of success stories. Today Facebook shared that mobile fitness app Endomondo has seen 8x as many referrals since integrating Open Graph in March. Cross platform music app Deezer has seen the number of people using their app triple since integrating with Facebook. Mobile music discovery app Shazam says 85 percent of Facebook-connected users post songs they tag to Facebook and the app has seen 47 percent growth in Facebook-connected users since launching with Open Graph.
In the end, investors and other pundits might not recognize Facebook’s mobile strength until it begins making money off the apps that connect with it. On Facebook.com, when developers make money from payments, Facebook makes 30 percent of that. It can even generate revenue from the ads that appear on-site while users engage with canvas apps. If a mobile app makes money — even if Facebook integration helped drive discovery, growth and engagement — Facebook doesn’t get a cut.
But even though third-party mobile apps don’t bring in revenue for Facebook today, the company is building a base that it could monetize further over time, either by getting developers to buy ads, implementing a mobile ad network or making deals to share revenue in return for providing distribution or other infrastructure. Facebook didn’t attempt to monetize mobile News Feed until March of this year, and now it’s making more than $3 million a day from ads in that channel.