The venue for Facebook's biggest push yet into the potentially lucrative world of mobile application marketing could be its upcoming F8 2014 Conference in San Francisco, observers and analysts say.
Facebook already sells apps, but not as many as Apple's App Store or Google Play. With more than a billion user accounts the company has much bigger ambitions to serve as a conduit between developers of games, guides and other fun and useful programs.
Ilya Sukhar, Facebook's top developer exec, who came to the company when it bought cloud-based Parse, which Sukhar co-founded, has said in published reports that sweetening the deal for developer partners will be a big part of the April 30 F8 conference, the first in three years.
Will Facebook Be a Player?
Facebook seems to be banking on the willingness of users to buy apps directly through its environment, which has fewer offerings, rather than from app stores that increasingly sell hundreds of thousands of offerings that can be difficult to search.
The app market was essentially launched with Apple's iPhone and iPods. The number of downloads continues to soar, going from under 10 billion in 2010 to about 50 billion last year for the four top smartphone platforms, according to Mobilestatistics.com. Android users gobbled up the most apps last year, followed by Apple's iOS users, BlackBerry users and Windows Phone users.
We asked technology analyst Jeff Kagan for his take on the app market. "Apps have exploded in the last five or six years," Kagan said. "Today the leader in the app market is Apple and Google. However others can do well in this space if they do it right. Will Facebook become a player in app marketing? They have the potential if they can structure and market themselves correctly."
Rob Enderle, principal analyst at The Enderle Group, told us that while Facebook may not grow to dominate the app market, it can still make some money trying.
"Apple actually uses a very different revenue model and Google pretty much owns on-line advertising," Enderle said. "[Facebook] will never be Apple nor match Google unless Google crashes and burns or is taken apart by a government. However they could increase their revenue through apps sharply and for mobile users this could be the best way to revenue and profit because it directly deals with the small screen issues."
He added that increased attention to apps helps Facebook move more vigorously into mobile advertising without increasing the ads on its own site.
"The apps would have to be compelling but that should be far easier than trying to transform Facebook itself to a mobile screen and then add ads, because you start with the ad or app revenue as a core component of the design and not an afterthought," Enderle said.