Is Facebook’s App Center a Win-Win for iPhone, Android Users and Developers?

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After years of leaving users to fend for themselves when scrounging for apps and games like Socialcam, CityVille or Draw Something, Facebook says it will finally launch an application hub to corral social apps in one place. It’s called App Center, and Facebook says developers can (and should) start prepping their apps for inclusion immediately.

Facebook notes that, among other things, developers will be able to charge flat fees for apps up front (like Apple via the App Store, Facebook currently takes a 30% cut). Some developers already charge users for in-app purchases, but allowing them to charge for apps outright is new. And the apps will be accessible through web browsers (on computers) as well as native Facebook apps for Android and iOS devices.

(PHOTOS: Life Inside Facebook Headquarters)

But apps that don’t meet certain quality standards won’t be visible, says Facebook, outlining an intriguing feedback-based rating system that aggregates indices like “user ratings” and “engagement” to score apps in Facebook’s performance metric tool, Insights. “Well-designed apps that people enjoy will be prominently displayed,” explains Facebook, while “[apps] that receive poor user ratings or don’t meet the quality guidelines won’t be listed.” That makes Facebook’s App Center markedly different from Apple’s or Google’s, which drill only on an app’s performance, e.g. “top paid,” “top free,” “top grossing,” etc.

The introduction of a centralized app store comes at a critical moment: Facebook just admitted in an amendment to its IPO filing that its user base’s shift from web to mobile means they’re showing fewer ads per user, threatening their long-term revenues. According to the company:

We do not currently directly generate any meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products, and our ability to do so successfully is unproven. We believe this increased usage of Facebook on mobile devices has contributed to the recent trend of our daily active users (DAUs) increasing more rapidly than the increase in the number of ads delivered. If users increasingly access Facebook mobile products as a substitute for access through personal computers, and if we are unable to successfully implement monetization strategies for our mobile users, or if we incur excessive expenses in this effort, our financial performance and ability to grow revenue would be negatively affected.

So what does the App Center mean for us as end users (all 900 million, that is)? For starters, it gives us one place to browse for stuff, making app discovery more proactive. Instead of depending on word of mouth, media “best of” stories, third-party ranking sites, or for the right app ads to capture our eye, we’ll be able to rifle through a hub that’s aggregating and ranking stuff based in part on total community feedback.

It also means we’ll be able to learn more about apps before we install them. Facebook says every app must have an “app detail page,” designed to let us “see what makes an app unique” before installing and accessing it. That alone should be cause for celebration, in my view, after years of installing Facebook apps and giving them access to various aspects of our personal dossiers just to learn what they are and do. Facebook notes that even for non-Facebook users, an app’s detail page will become their first-stop when a Facebook app link comes up within Facebook itself (as well as, presumably, independent search engines).

Furthermore, Facebook isn’t pitching the App Center as an Apple/Google competitor. Rather, says Facebook, it’s “designed to grow mobile apps that use Facebook – whether they’re on iOS, Android or the mobile web.” The App Center will let you browse apps compatible with your device, and if one requires installation, Facebook says you’ll be redirected away from Facebook to either Apple’s App Store or Google Play.

So far, I see nothing not to thumbs-up here. A user-related ranking and inclusion system? A chance to investigate an app before installing it? A way for developers to compete on more level terms with Apple and Google with regard to app pricing? Everything in one central location? App agnosticism when it comes to platform and installation? Sure, it means a little extra work for developers and new challenge metrics for getting an app included as well as made visible, but the end benefits for users, at least on e-paper, seem broadly win-win at this point.

No, the App Center isn’t live yet, but when it launches “[in] the coming weeks,” you’ll be able to access it via www.facebook.com/appcenter.

(MORE: 50 Best iPhone Apps 2012)

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