Facebook Aims to Bypass Apple, Become Big Mobile Player

Facebook is reportedly working on an optimised website for Apple’s Safari browser, bypassing Apple’s strict platform controls, as the social networking giant looks to become an even bigger player in the mobile industry.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based social networking giant’s new mobile platform is called Project Spartan, according to reports, and the system uses HTML5 standards that allow it to run on Apple’s iOS devices like its iPhone and iPad.

Rather than adhering to Apple’s tight control over iOS, Facebook has turned to the Internet, rather than the App Store. Because Facebook’s platform will be web-based, Apple cannot implement the rules it has for developers creating apps for its devices. The Internet, on the other hand, has no governing body and few rules companies must follow, allowing Facebook more freedom in its project.

Facebook hopes to attract customers to use the iOS-optimised Web site, and steer them away from Facebook applications offered in the Apple App Store. The social network company plans to offer its own applications for the Web-based platform, which would also not go through the rigorous approval system.

This latest move is part of Facebook’s plan to enter the mobile market. Earlier this year, the company said it would begin to purchase mobile start-up companies in an attempt to compete with rival Google.

“We’re really focused on acquisitions,” said Bret Taylor, Facebook’s chief technology officer. “Every investment we make is aligning ourselves with the vision of being a platform company.”

Following suit, two months later, the company purchased mobile app developer Snaptu, which creates programs that give “feature phones,” or older devices not running mobile operating systems, a smartphone-like feel and experience. According to research firm Nielsen, 70 per cent of phone sales are still non-smartphone devices, so Facebook stands to make money from those who want smartphone-like devices but cannot afford them.

In February, Facebook and phone maker INQ Mobile unveiled two smartphones running on Android that offer deep Facebook integration. These devices allow users to access the site’s more advanced functions, such as viewing news feeds with images and videos, chatting on the page and posting location-based check-ins.

Facebook also is the latest company to bypass Apple’s stringent app approval processes in favour of a web-based application. The Financial Times recently unveiled an HTML5 web app targeting the iPhone and iPad that allows it to bypass the 30 per cent cut that Apple takes from app subscriptions, setting a precedent other publishers may follow.

While Apple has relaxed its in-app and subscription policies somewhat, it may not be enough to keep publications and businesses like Facebook from going the web-based route in order to meet demand on mobile iOS devices.

Facebook has made significant gains in the mobile field in recent months, and its latest venture is another push in that direction. Project Spartan, if successful, will give Facebook access to the 100 million users who routinely browse the Internet and check news feeds on their iOS devices.

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