Facebook – the 800lb gorilla of social networking – had decided to dip its oversized toe into the app distribution pool. While Facebook would seem assured of success its past effort – the App Directory – failed to establish Facebook as a kingmaker in app distribution eventually resulting in its shuttering in 2011. In fact, Facebook will have a challenge on its hands to get the App Center up and running with less than 12% of developers distributing apps via Facebook today, according to our recent developer survey.
But the times they are a-changing and as apps become increasingly important to how users consume content and interact with the world at large. The moment presents an opportunity for Facebook. But how can Facebook avoid past mistakes while differentiating from a crowded marketplace?
Let users see the big picture. If you want a phone or tablet application there are plenty of locations to find apps. However, if you’re looking for an app that spans your phone, tablet, TV, PC and other devices (especially if all these devices run on different operating systems) you need to search multiple stores. Facebook – by providing access to apps across a broad range of devices and operating systems could provide a more holistic view for users.
Leverage Social Discovery. Most app stores fail miserably when it comes to discovery. A top 100 list is just a self-fulfilling prophecy increasingly dominated by fewer and fewer developers. Some innovation has taken place such as BlackBerry integrating app discovery into BBM (discussed here). But the market must go further and it is clear that discovery will be the next major battleground for app stores. Social discovery is Facebook's bread and butter and is something the company should excel at.
Use Facebook connect (and all data). Our recent developer survey showed that the most popular social network integrated into apps is Facebook with more than 80% of developers integrating it. Therefore, Facebook should have a good sense of the apps you are using, how often you use them, who you are playing against, and more. By leveraging this information (in addition to the social graph) Facebook could create more tailored recommendations engine (let alone offering social discovery from the friends you play with most) on apps for your smartphone, tablet, and more.
Provide glue between platforms. Apple has attempted to create a more holistic experience across its portfolio by allowing developers to use iCloud to save app data – in theory allowing a user to start a game on an iPhone and finish it on an iPad. Facebook can bring this to a whole new level as apps become ubiquitous across more platforms by allowing users to take an experience from iPhone to Android to any other device the app is on.
In short, the opportunity for Facebook is huge but there is no guarantee of success. However, one thing is sure – if Facebook does become a key player in app distribution – it will further cement its importance at the center of the social universe. For more in-depth analysis on what Facebook’s launch means to the apps ecosystem read this report; Even Facebook doesn’t “Like” CTIA