Facebook officially unveiled its App Center on Thursday night, a collection of free social applications for both web and mobile platforms.
In total, the App Center launched with 600 social apps, including Nike+ GPS, Ubisoft's Ghost Recon Commander and Pinterest. Facebook disclosed plans to launch the App Center a few weeks ago, when executives disclosed that the first round of apps would emphasise quality.
Not all users will have access to the App Center immediately; Facebook will implement a phased roll out, although on a quicker pace than its launch of Timeline, a company spokesman said. Only U.S. users are able to access it for the time being, but the news will surely put interested British and European consumers on high alert.
So far, Facebook's efforts appear to be pushing both its platform and its partner apps to more and more users, rather than making a concerted effort to derive revenue from them. "Facebook is this growth engine, and the App Center is another addition to that growth engine," said Doug Purdy, who works on the product development team at Facebook.
What the App Center looks like
On the web, the App Center will appear as a collection of apps, with a carousel of popular apps at the top, followed by the Facebook recommended apps in a left-hand column. On the right, apps used by a user's friends will appear.
Each app will generally allow the user to install it as a Facebook application. However, a "send to mobile" will also appear if the app has a mobile app from either the Apple iOS App Store or the Google Play store. In either case, the app can be sent to a user's phone and can be installed there.
In the mobile environment, the apps will appear under their own drop-down heading, accessible from the menu button on the upper left. Facebook also separately announced new security features for the mobile platform.
Show Mark the money
The addition of apps and games to the mobile version of Facebook is the first step toward solving Facebook's problem of monetising its mobile platform. But for now, money app developers pull in through in-app advertising stays with that developer, Purdy said in an interview.
"What we're trying to do is bring people to social apps," Purdy said. "Our monetisation, our revenue strategy for this doesn't change one bit."
While Facebook doesn't derive any revenue from the ads it shows in the apps - which, for now, are totally free - the activity the user takes in using those apps is communicated back to Facebook, which can sell ads against that information.
"We are largely an advertising company, and we continue to make our money that way," Purdy said. "The more applications that people use, that are social, that they share, of course that benefits us. It means that we can sponsor those stories, it means that we're better in our ads and marketing. And that's really what that's about for us."
Facebook had 901 million monthly active users at the end of March. The company claims that more than 230 million people play games on Facebook every month. Facebook drove people to the Apple App Store 83 million times in May, the company claimed, and to iOS apps on 134 million occasions.
For now, many of the developers at the launch, including Nike and "Ghost Recon" developer Ubisoft, chose to launch their apps on the iOS platform, with Android support due down the road. Both Josh Mast, the producer of "Ghost Recon Commander" and Nike's Joseph Teegardin said that, so far, iOS users have been the preferred audience.