Facebook announced the launch of App Center, an online hub where users can find social apps and help developers get their applications discovered easily. This announcement comes a few days ahead of its IPO launch. What's interesting is that this time, the social networking player allows developers to sell apps directly to consumers, unlike before when apps were free and it made money from advertising or in-app purchases.
The proposed app repository, which is set to go live in a few weeks, will feature applications that are designed for PCs as well as for mobile devices such as iPhones and Android smartphones. In an official communiqué, the company says, "App Center is designed to grow mobile apps that use Facebook - whether they're on iOS, Android or the mobile web. From the mobile App Center, users can browse apps that are compatible with their devices, and if a mobile app requires installation, they will be sent to download the app from the App Store or Google Play."
While ostensibly it seems a normal evolutionary process for Facebook, when afaqs! spoke to a few industry observers, the unanimous opinion was that there is something more than what meets the eye.
One school of thought believes that ahead of the IPO, it becomes imperative for Facebook to showcase the ways it can monetise and hence, this App Center. As Nimesh Shah, head maven, Windchimes Communications, says, "Once Facebook gets listed, it will face added accountability as it will have to face questions from and assure stakeholders. This is surely a good way for Facebook to start earning."
It is interesting to note that Facebook is trying various approaches to earn money in ways that do not drive users away from it. For example, the networking platform is testing the possibility of introducing highlighted posts wherein the user pays a fee of $2 to highlight his/her post in the friends news feed.
Many also opine that the apps developers would have to be a bit more disciplined while conceptualising, designing and coding their apps. However, this is good news for the consumers, since they will now have access to thoroughly tested apps, with a very nice user experience. The company will also introduce a rating metric for applications called Insight, which will offer app developers statistics on the performance of their apps.
However there is also a doubt on how developers will make money. Vishwajeet Sukhija, director, innovations and marketing, Mobilox, talks about a possibility. "From the initial documentation, it seems that there will be a plain redirect to Apple Store and Google Play, so there may be a further cut on the payment for paid apps. Developers may have to part with some more money because now they will have to bear two transactional costs on paid apps, one on FB App Center and the other on the respective app store. The margins may decrease but the volume of download will increase since App Center will make apps more visible."
Another set of rumours suggest that the App Center could be a prelude to a Facebook phone. Preetham Venkky, business head, KRDS (Facebook Experts) Asia, says, "This is purely speculation. But if this does become true, App Center will become an added distribution medium."
The launch of App Center is also seen as a move by Facebook to become a bigger player in mobile. It is evident that mobile will play a big role in the way Facebook evolves, given the fact that out of its 9,000 million users, about 470 million are actively using Facebook through their mobile devices. Being platform-agnostic, App Center will result in a flurry of apps and will have a social feel to it. Venkky adds, "With Facebook listing websites that use the networking platform's logins, developers will have to think social."
So what does App Center need to become a success? Venkky says, "Facebook has always given products that users need. The future of App Center depends on developers. Those with great ideas can surely make this a success."
Shah concludes, "Content has always been the key. If there is good content made available on App Center, there is no reason why it should fail."