Facebook and the Future of Web Apps

Ben Bajarin / November 22nd, 2011

There was a little company, that I found interesting, called Strobe who was building a platform to help developers build and monetize HTML 5 web apps. I spent some time with their founder Charles Jolley, whom while at his time with Apple created the Javascript framework SproutCore. In our discussion it was clear that Charles and I shared much of the same vision for the future of the web and web apps in general. I had been intrigued with SproutCore since Charles developed it inside of Apple, which subsequently, Apple also open sourced. SproutCore is an open source framework that makes building fast and innovative web experiences easy and intuitive.

This is why my interest was again peaked when I saw that earlier this month Strobe and the team had been purchased by Facebook. This acquisition didn’t strike too many as big news but I think it is quite significant. It is no secret that Facebook wants to further leverage their platform with HTML 5 and web apps into the future. What struck me about the Strobe platform was the problem Charles and team set out to solve which is discovery and monetization of web apps. That is also the part that interests me about this acquisition because it means that Facebook sees itself more of a web app store platform. This isn’t terribly shocking, but now more than ever I think they have the pieces in place to make a run at being a next generation web app platform.

This all comes in light of recent rumors that Facebook is working on a pure HTML 5 and web app phone in conjunction with HTC. If this is in fact true then this acquisition of the Strobe team would make sense as Facebook looks to unify the web app model across their device ecosystem.

The real issue Facebook will have to deal with is around purchasing trust. Assuming what I propose above is true, Facebook will want to have a more intimate billing relationship with consumers in terms of purchasing web apps and possibly more. Right now Facebook does not have a trusted billing relationship with customers and this will be necessary for them to move forward. I am not sure how Facebook will resolve this and perhaps this new Facebook phone is a step in that direction.

The other way around the lack of consumer trust could be to have the carrier involved in the billing of web apps on this mobile phone. This could perhaps be a key strategic first step for Facebook to establish a more trusted relationship with consumers.

Looking at the big picture, the Strobe acquisition sheds more light on how Facebook is orienting itself to be a next generation web platform.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio
  • Anonymous

    Ben,

    I’ve been developing web apps for several years, and here’s a developers perspective; A few years back when Apple first released it’s original iPhone, there was no native development environment. During that 9 or so months till Apple “saw the light”, my web app usage skyrocketed to the point where my web site was getting hundreds of thousands of hits daily. But almost like there was a power outage, once the native app development environment was unleashed, my site took a nose dive as all the users got enthralled by the “theres an app for that” mentality.

    Apple, and Android OEMs no longer embrace the web app experience since they clearly have cornered the market on the app store/market.

    Apple has even gone so far as discontinuing their webapp submission site back about a year ago.

    Again, as a developer, I’ve had to switch to building native apps, and haven’t looked back. While HTML5 holds a lot of promise in allowing devs to build more engaging web apps, nothing compares to app experience. It’s more work for us devs to build native apps, but it gives us access to features that a browser can’t match (nor should).

    To Facebook’s credit, I am encouraged by their support of HTML5, and wish them luck in trying to build a developer network (I’ll be first in line once they do), but as you clearly point out, they’ve also got a challenge of how to monetize such an ecosystem.

    • Anonymous

      That’s great insight and perspective, I greatly appreciate you taking the time to share it.

      In your opinion native will always exist or do see you a web app only world in the future?

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