With more than 425 million monthly active users utilizing Facebook mobile products in December 2011 only, the social networking platform is finally focusing on mobile and tablets in 2012. Wise decision, since not only Smartphone market is increasing, but according to a research by BI Intelligence global tablet sales will reach 500 million units per year by 2015 – exceeding the number of PCs currently sold per year (~360 million).
Facebook has mentioned that as part of its mobile monetisation strategy it will start using “sponsored stories” in mobile users news feed. But is that really all?
Facebook – more than a simple platform
Until now Facebook has been focusing on normal web strategy and constant updates that seem to make its users’ life more difficult. But hate Facebook or not, the social network is becoming much more than just a platform. Facebook is on its way to become its own Internet portal by using Facebook IDs as an online passport to various products and services hosted on its own developer platform.
Facebook’s inter-connected business model has worked well and the company has created its own successful ecosystem. The social network has made great progress especially with social gaming, and its close relationship with Zynga (FarmVille, Mafia Wars) has been very beneficial for both. F-commerce is also blooming with companies trying to get more touchable return on their social media investment and Facebook has even launched its own online virtual currency called Facebook credits. They allow Facebook developers to offer in-app purchases with Facebook cutting 30% of the revenue. A similar model Apple uses in its App store.
Facebook mobile monetisation strategy
Now there is the problem. Facebook needs to establish a proper mobile monetisation strategy, yet the native app store model is very restrictive. For example, Apple takes off 30% revenue of the apps sold, and insists on maintaining control of the iOS payments process. This means that Facebook cannot take advantage of ‘in-apps payments’: a revenue generated by its current ecosystem.
What comes to f-commerce, according to a study by Shopatron, most of the tablet owners find shopping with the tablet engaging, and the conversion rate from tablets is much higher than conversion rate from mobiles or even PCs. If Facebook wants to expand its F-commerce business, it needs to offer companies a way to create a tablet optimized social shopping experience, and lure them away from iPad apps.
Will Facebook abandon App store?
Probably not. The social network is not likely to ditch the existing native apps, because they already have a large user base and work well with the different OS. However, Facebook has a team (so called Project Spartan) playing with HTML5 technology, which is a coding language that allows companies to develop one mobile / tablet app that is suitable for any device or operating system. According to a research firm Strategy Analytics, 1 billion HTML5 compatible phones are to be shipped in 2013(up from 336 million in 2011), which brings interesting possibilities.
If the company starts creating its own apps without registration fees and payment restrictions, it is free to monetise via Facebook Credit and in-apps payments. Quite a significant move, since if Facebook starts developing HTML5 apps many companies and its partners are likely to follow. Which certainly will not make Apple happy.
We will see. There are many other possibilities for Facebook in mobile space, such as augmented reality with facial recognition, and the company also needs to consider very well whether it is worth making another powerful enemy, especially when iPad3 is coming up. If Facebook starts competing with Apple’s App store, their relationship status is likely to become “complicated”.