Facebook has just announced its very own App Center where you can sell your apps. Why has this taken so long?
There is a tendency to yawn when "Yet Another App Center" (YAAC) is announced but you can't really ignore what Facebook does no matter how much you would like to. After giving us possibly the worst API in the world, we can now create apps and sell them with its help.
The apps can run on any platform - Web, iOS or Android - but they have to have some connection with Facebook and they will be vetted for quality. This sounds like a good idea, but achieving a bug-free Facebook app is no small achievement given the nature of the API.
Apps that run on mobile devices will be made available via the appropriate official app store, i.e. the Apple App Store or Google Play. This raises the question of what sort of deal Facebook may have struck with these two controllers of the mobile app market.
The need for the app seems to come down to either using a Facebook-provided facility or driving traffic to Facebook. It seems that it isn't enough that you provide an app that benefits the user, it also has to benefit Facebook. The examples in the app guidelines are:
An app on Facebook.com in a canvas page
A mobile app built for the web, iOS or Android that uses Facebook Login
A website that uses Facebook Login and has an immediately logged-in, personalized experience (see App Quality for more info)
An App for Pages built to manage or enhance other companies’ Facebook Pages
To submit your app you have to create a "detail" page, which Facebook uses as part of the review process. It promises to explain why an app is rejected so that you can go through the process of making it more acceptable.
If you are lucky enough to get in, then your app will benefit from the Facebook social promotion. Users get to see what apps their friends have installed. They can also browse by category and there will be a leaderboard of top or recommended apps. So there is plenty of scope for a viral marketing effect or complete neglect depending on luck.
While Facebook apps have long had in-app purchasing, the ability to charge for apps is something of a reversal for Facebook. After saying it had no plans for any sort of paid app, we now have an App Center in beta and the final version should be rolled out in a few weeks. Facebook will be taking a cut of revenue, of course, and this could be the method by which it makes some money out of mobile. It has even been suggested that this might be the groundwork needed for the launch of a Facebook phone - but this seems less likely.
With the launch of the Facebook App Center, we take another step towards software living in walled gardens, being censored, quality-controlled and generally vetted by entities whose only qualification for doing so is that they control some Internet traffic. This may be good for short term revenue but it isn't good for future innovation.