With the launch of Facebook App centre, there are a lot of crazy people out there braying that “Facebook now has an app store.”
App centre is many things, but it is not an app store.
For one thing, you don’t buy apps there. That’s a crucial distinction—and it tells you a lot about how Facebook is asserting its power and presence in the mobile world against Google and Apple.
Facebook is the new gatekeeper of the mobile-app world.
Let’s review the details of how App centre works for developers, as we learned last night at Facebook’s launch event.
- The App centre launched with 600 apps—desktop apps that run on the Web, and mobile apps that integrate with Facebook’s social graph. That’s a fraction of the total universe of Facebook-enabled apps.
- Here’s how apps get into the App centre: First, they have to meet objective criteria for installs, engagement, and return visits—your basic measures of an app’s popularity and sustained usage.
- Facebook product manager Matt Wyndowe told me that the number of qualified apps run only into the thousands—out of a universe of millions of Facebook apps. That’s all Facebook wants to put in the App centre right now.
- After they meet the objective criteria, a Facebook team reviews the apps for subjective criteria. They’re basically screening the apps for spammy behaviour. Right now, they’re adding roughly 50 a day, according to Wyndowe, though that may speed up.
(None of this, by the way, changes how often posts from apps appear in the News Feed. But users’ engagement with those app-driven posts appear to be a factor in qualifying an app for App centre.)
What does the App centre do? It doesn’t replace Apple’s App Store or the Google Play marketplace. In fact, it depends on those app stores existing so it can drive traffic to them.
Let’s repeat that: So it can drive traffic to them.
Apple and Google already know how much traffic Facebook is sending to their app stores. App centre, which will do a better job than random posts in the News Feed of directing users to apps they’re likely to like.
It’s already a firehose, as Facebook executive Doug Purdy pointedly reminded Apple and Google last night.
What Facebook gives, Facebook can take away.
So Facebook doesn’t need its own app store. What it needs is a central, visible place where it can channel users’ interest in apps and help them discover the best apps according to its criteria—which is popularity on Facebook, of course.
Facebook also doesn’t need to build its own smartphone, as long as it has a way of rewarding developers for integrating with Facebook.
And by solving the problem of discovery—at least for a tiny, elite slice of the app market—Facebook ensures it will be highly relevant in the mobile world.
(Oh, by the way, Facebook App centre will probably be great for users, too. Right now, it’s hard to find both desktop and mobile apps on Facebook. But that’s hardly the point: Facebook is fully capable of pleasing users and making a power play against Google and Apple in the same breath.)