Facebook is pushing to create mobile browsing and Web-based mobile payments standards, hinting at plans to compete with Apple and Android’s native app stores.
At the Barcelona Mobile World Congress today, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based social network announced it is backing the W3C Mobile Web Platform Core Community Group, a consortium of more than 30 device manufacturers, carriers and developers that aims to standardize mobile browsing, and released a testing suite for app developers called Ringmark.
The social network also unveiled plans to develop a Web-based mobile payments standard.
This announcement underscores Facebook’s commitment to working with carriers and developers to create a unified browsing and mobile payments system for the mobile Web, hinting it plans to expand beyond its social media roots to become a larger mobile industry player.
The partnership with mobile carriers aims to simplify Facebook-based transactions, making it easier for people to buy apps on any mobile device and include the transaction on their carrier bill, said Facebook CTO Bret Taylor. For example, easier payments will allow mobile users to skip the authentication and billing process every time they move up a level in a game, he said.
The standards will also benefit carriers and handset makers, he said, because they will know once an app has passed Facebook’s Ringmark testing, it will work on any device.
The plans dovetail with Facebook’s need to boost revenue as its first public stock sale nears. Tight mobile app integration gives Facebook’s advertisers a way to capture user preferences, tastes and buying habits, allowing for precisely targeted ads to draw in more ad dollars.
A more standardized browsing experience and simplified payments would also allow Facebook to develop and sell its own line of apps that would work on any device, and become an “app store” in its own right.
Once mobile Web browsing and app buying fall under a unified standard, Facebook will be able to compete with native app stores, such as the Android Market and Apple’s App Store. Mobile users can choose, buy and pay for apps from native stores with one-step authentication and billing, a standard Facebook aspires to as it seeks to compete as a mobile platform.
Facebook launched its mobile apps platform for iOS last fall, and plans to bring it to Android this year. The platform, once it goes live, will allow developers to integrate apps in Facebook’s mobile ecosystem on Android devices.
HTML5 is also on its way, and standardized mobile Web-browsing will allow Facebook to capitalize on the cross-platform apps this new version of HTML will support.
A standardized mobile platform will help reduce HTML5 fragmentation, providing users with a more cohesive app experience across devices, and allowing them to purchase one app and use it on different phones and tablets.
With its MWC announcement, Facebook asserts its position as a mobile service, hinting at plans to compete as an industry player and not just a social media site.