Facebook has announced that it plans to launch App Center, a hub that will host apps for the social network, as well as iOS, Android, mobile web and desktop apps that make use of Facebook.
App Center will be available via the web, and Facebook's iOS and Android applications, and will introduce paid-for apps to the network for the first time, providing developers with an new revenue option beyond in-app purchases.
While on first glance it would appear that Facebook is attempting to compete with the likes of Apple and Google, App Center will in fact send traffic to native app stores should the chosen app require installation on a mobile device.
Even so, the social network has clearly learned from the mistakes of its competitors. User ratings (based on a five-star system) will be used in combination with data on the frequency and duration of usage to determine which apps are displayed on the storefront, a system which Facebook hopes will solve the problem of discoverability that plagues other app stores. Conversely, apps that are rated poorly or don't meet Facebook's quality guidelines won't be listed.
The collected data will be made available to developers, too, allowing them to update releases in response to user behaviour as well as reviews. Releases will have an 'app detail' page, similar to established app stores, that includes screenshots and details on the game.
“The App Center is designed to grow mobile apps that use Facebook – whether they’re on iOS, Android or the mobile web,” Facebook's Aaron Brady explains on the social network's developer blog. “From the mobile App Center, users can browse apps that are compatible with their device, and if a mobile app requires installation, they will be sent to download the app from the App Store or Google Play.”
The move will likely cheer developers who've struggled to get their apps noticed in the shadow of Zynga's huge playerbase, and go a significant distance towards mitigating Facebook's rule changes in 2010 that forbade third-party notifications in an effort to reduce spam on user's walls. The network's recently introduced Ticker reestablished game notifications, but kept them separate from the main feed.
With the company's IPO imminent -an IPO that is already expected to raise up to $11.8 billion – the App Center represents a clear opportunity to monetise the around 488 million users who access the network through a mobile device each month.