This week, Facebook took its social network to the iPad, accommodating friend requests and status updates on the swipe and pinch touchscreen of Apple’s tablet.
But at the same time it launched the long-awaited iPad app, Facebook also opened its platform to all mobile developers, creating a broad alternative for engineers to build mobile Facebook features outside Apple’s dominant Apps store.
The move engages Facebook in a delicate balancing act.
There are 350m people who access the social network on mobile devices every month. Roughly half of those users go to Facebook through a web browser, which uses HTML5 technology, and half use applications that are configured specifically to the operating system within their device, such as Apple’s iOS system that is built into the iPhone or Google’s Android system built into Motorola phones.
When iPhone users want to download a Facebook app, such as a game, they will be directed to the Apple app store where Apple will take its customary 30 per cent transaction fee.
On the other hand, when users access Facebook through a mobile web browser and they want to access the same game, they will be directed to the developer’s website to download the app. Facebook requires those developers to use Facebook Credits, Facebook’s proprietary currency, so Facebook gets the 30 per cent cut on those sales.
Encouraging developers to build on both platforms sends a healthy customer base to Apple, but lets millions roam Facebook in whatever mobile fashion they choose.