Facebook Makes Its Move: Brings Viral Channels to HTML5, iOS Apps

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By Kim-Mai Cutler Comment

Facebook finally unveiled its long-awaited effort to help mobile developers market their native and HTML5-based apps through its platform today. iOS developers will get to take advantage of bookmarks, requests and the news feed in the same way that Facebook canvas developers do.

The interesting parts of today’s launch are:

Facebook is playing nice with Apple on viral distribution for native iOS apps, not just HTML5-based ones: If a developer wants to distribute a native application, Facebook’s notifications will send prospective users to the iTunes app store.

So Facebook is not pressuring developers to build HTML5 apps in order to use its viral channels. This is a big deal because the HTML5-requirement was perceived as a hurdle for adoption of Facebook’s mobile platform. Both indie and mid-size developers have difficulty splitting their resources between building natively and on HTML5. Furthermore, there’s still a noticeable performance disparity between native and HTML5 applications — especially with games, which are the largest revenue driver on both platforms.

It’s unclear if Facebook will get affiliate revenue for the downloads it drives of paid apps. Apple pays a 5 percent commission for referrals in its iTunes affiliate program. Other earlier mobile-social gaming networks like OpenFeint derived a nominal amount of revenue from this, but the volume of installs Facebook will drive is likely to be much larger. A Facebook spokesperson says, “Our policy is not to discuss such details.”

Parallel viral channels on Android will be coming soon. There’s no official date though.

Facebook Credits have arrived for mobile web apps (as was widely anticipated): HTML5 developers that want to use Credits as their payment mechanism must use it exclusively. Native iOS apps have to use Apple’s payment system, however. This split in payments between web-based and native apps is expected given that Apple is unlikely to give up revenue from in-app payments and paid downloads.

We were the first to report that Facebook might use an HTML5 platform as a way to extend Credits to mobile back in February, four months before any mainstream outlets wrote about it. And we also correctly reported the launch date as three weeks away from f8 while other blogs incorrectly said this would launch last week at Apple’s event.

And here are the key viral channels for mobile developers:

Requests:  This may be the most effective new viral channel for iOS developers launching today. If a user gets a request from a friend to join an app, they can respond to it from their iPhone. Then they’ll be sent to either the app’s mobile website or to the iTunes store where they can download the native version.

News Feed: Users can click on news feed items and be directed to the HTML5-based app or the iTunes store, where they’ll be able to download the native version.

Bookmarks: Like on the web, users will get to save bookmarks for apps they use. If users tap on a bookmark, Facebook’s iPhone or iPad app will launch the app if it’s installed or they will send the user to the iTunes store. (Given that bookmarks are already buried one layer deep in the Facebook app, we suspect users might be more inclined to launch apps directly from their phone.)

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