The mobile market is all about the apps these days, and Facebook, seeking to lengthen the amount of time mobile users spend on the world's biggest social network, is increasing its offerings well beyond Farmville and Mafia Wars.
Beginning today, Facebook will offer mobile apps for Android and iOS as well as a range of social apps and more games.
"The App Center features mobile and web apps, such as Draw Something, Pinterest, and Nike+ GPS, and new apps including Jetpack Joyride, Ghosts of Mistwood, and Ghost Recon Commander," wrote Matt Wyndowe on Facebook's Newsroom page.
"The App Center gives you personalized recommendations, and lets you browse the apps your friends use. It only lists high-quality apps, based on feedback from people who use the app."
While visiting Facebook on a computer, users can send applications they like to their mobile devices. Apps can be sorted by Facebook's recommendations for games and apps, by friends' usage or by newness.
Like everything else on Facebook, the App Center will roll out slowly among U.S. users over the next few weeks, with an initial 600 apps -- all of them gratis. That's nowhere near the ballpark of Apple's nearly half-million offerings in the App Store, Android's more than 400,000 or even the 100,000-plus in the Windows Phone Marketplace. But the idea is to add the ability to get apps without leaving Facebook as well as those that work within the network.
"The goal here is to consistently improve user stickiness to the Facebook platform," said analyst Neil Shah of Strategy Analytics.
"The more time users spend on Facebook, the more the opportunities for the social advertising giant to boost up its in-app ads display."
New Revenue Opportunity
Giving away the initial offerings for free is a classic strategy that paves the way for eventual paid apps, including those that generate monthly revenue with premium membership or advanced features and in-app purchases.
Now that Facebook is a publicly traded company -- one struggling to gain some buoyancy on the NASDAQ after a turbulent initial public offering -- it must find new or enhanced sources of income beyond advertising. The company is also looking at sponsored posts that allow users to make sure they are seen by friends.
But after auto giant General Motors last month announced it would drop its $9 million paid advertising campaign on Facebook, relying instead on free pages, marketing research firm Greenlight took a poll that found that 44 percent of 500 users said they would not click on ads or sponsored posts, and 31 percent said they rarely did. The study, however, did not look at actual online behavior.
"Starting with an ad-supported, high-usage freemium apps model will pave the way to expand to more socially integrated apps and services which could be monetized," Shah said.