Facebook to invade iOS with Project Spartan

Social notworking giant Facebook is squaring up to Apple in an effort to topple its virtual monopoly of the mobile app market.

According to Tech Crunch, the outfit will soon introduce an HTML5-based app outlet which will use Apple's own Safari browser to showcase and sell its paid-for wares. If it weren't for the negative connotations, we're pretty sure Zuckerberg and his minions would have called it Project Trojan.

The sneaky move, which will no doubt be heavily promoted to Facebook's 700 million active users, will bypass the iTunes App Store entirely, also side-stepping Apple's 30 per cent app tax.

Facebook reportedly has 80 developers working on the project which really should have been 300 to keep the Spartan analogy going.

TC says it's a 'secret project' so none of this is set in stone, but it's also rumoured that some pretty big guns, including Farmville creator Zynga and the Huffington Post, are working on content for the back-door platform.

It won't, of course, be the first time a major company has invaded Apple's locked-down ecosystem, as the Financial Times will atest. The venerable rag for business types famously dropped its iPad App in favour of a web-based portal when Apple went on a money-grubbing rampage over in-app subscriptions.

Facebook already has a simple payment system in place in the form of Credits which the report says will be baked into the SDK to tempt developers into the fold.

It's a smart move on Facebook's part, and one which will give Adobe's Flash - already ostracised from iOS devices by a belligerent edict from Steve Jobs - more cause for concern.

What remains to be seen is whether Apple is happy to sit back and watch Facebook set up its own stall on the manicured lawns of its walled garden. On the face of it there is very little the Cupertino company can do without hobbling Safari in a way which would cause a public outcry.

But there's no telling what might happen when Steve Jobs finds Mark Zuckerberg with his sticky fingers in the Apple cookie jar.