Facebook: How we're planning to conquer the world of mobile apps

Facebook has set its sights on selling ads inside mobile apps, a market already worth billions of dollars and growing faster than web-based advertising.

Facebook plans to win the hearts and minds of developers by making its tools and services the first choice for anyone creating a mobile app.

Key to the social network's strategy of wooing developers is offering tools that simplify app creation and monetisation. Streamlining creation is Facebook Parse, a service that manages the servers feeding an app data, while monetisation is served by the newly-announced Facebook Audience Network, which will deliver targeted advertising to virtually any smartphone app.

Julien Codorniou manages Facebook's platforms team in Europe and spelled out the firm's ambition to become a one-stop shop for mobile app developers.

"The Facebook platform really attracts developers because they know they can build on Facebook, grow on Facebook and eventually monetise with us. That's a very strong competitive advantage that we have over the other platforms," he said.

Extending the reach of Facebook's advertising beyond the social network to Android, iOS, Windows Phone and other mobile platforms is central to Facebook's financial ambitions. When the next mobile app explodes and suckers in tens of millions of users, much as King.com's Candy Crush did on Facebook, Facebook wants to be able to take its cut regardless of the platform.

"It's important for us to manage the existing big partners but it's also important to identify what is going to be the next big thing and who will be the next big partner for us, the King.com of 2017," Codorniou said.

"With Parse we have a product that connects us to startups and early hedge companies and we know that some of them, just like Candy Crush or Supercell, will make it."

The F8 conference also saw Facebook announce features to share content from inside apps, such as Mobile Like Button and Message Dialog, as well as FbStart, a package of software tools and event invites designed to help new app builders.

That desire to win over new mobile developers in the hope of lassoing the next Flappy Bird saw Facebook announce simpler Parse pricing at F8. The tiered charging model was ditched for pay per use, and apps making fewer than 30 API requests per second or using 20GB or less of file and database storage can use the service for free.

Parse's user base is growing. Since it was acquired by Facebook one year ago, its customers have more than doubled to 240,000.

Many of these businesses are startups, but Codorniou said in recent months large companies in Europe have also begun to use the platform to build apps, including e-commerce and travel software.

"Since we bought Parse, the definition of a Facebook developer has changed a lot because you don't have to be social you can be just on mobile," he said.


The market selling advertising on mobile and tablet apps is already crowded with large competitors. Google offers its AdMob and Apple its iMob platform, while Twitter purchased the MoPub service last year. Outside the big tech players are firms like Millenial Media, which specialise in delivering targeted advertising on mobile devices.

But Facebook enjoys an advantage over many other networks in the granularity of the data it holds on the likes, dislikes and online habits of hundreds of millions of users, data that in theory can generate more precisely targeted ads.

Forrester analyst Jennifer Wise wrote that Facebook was succeeding with its mobile ads in large part because it had that rich login and affinity data that it could use to target ads and boost ad relevancy.

"Applying this affinity data to more mobile ads now across apps? Big potential," she said.

Facebook's support for delivering ads with a customised format through the network could also provide ads that are less disagreeable to app users, she said.

However, there are still plenty of unknowns about the network, and Wise poses a series of questions about how Facebook's ad network will perform.

"How well can this data be integrated with other data sources to create true personalisation? Will the results based on this data be worth the cost for marketers? And will these ads bring in enough results for developers and publishers to give Facebook a piece of the revenue?" she asked.

Wise also pointed out that Facebook's competitors in this area are also working on native ads, dynamic customisation, and enhanced mobile targeting, concluding, "So the end result here for the mobile ad tech industry is TBD".

The developer's perspective

In the past the interfaces Facebook exposed to its platform have been criticised for being poorly documented and changing too often. Yesterday Facebook announced changes designed to provide a more consistent development environment, offering guarantees of more stable core products, versioned APIs and faster platform bug fixes.

Angus Fox, co-chair of Social Developers London, a large independent community for developers using social technologies, said there has been a sea change in how Facebook viewed the importance of third-party apps - citing Facebook's updates to software development kits for Android, iOS, JavaScript and the new PHP SDK.

The stability and services that Facebook is offering developers should make it easier to build, grow and monetise apps, Fox said.

"It is exactly what Twitter, with its gradual overlap and takeover of the apps community, failed to do."

Facebook's Codorniou said the social network is content just to provide platforms that mobile apps and their ads sit on, rather than launching its own services to compete with third-party apps.

"That's what differentiates Facebook from our competitors. We don't do Facebook Music, for example. We work with Deezer. We don't do Facebook video. We work with Dailymotion. We don't do games ourselves. We partner with the other guys - the King.coms of the world."

"I'm going to quote our CEO who is always saying 'Facebook is a platform business and that's a beautiful business'," he said.