Facebook plans HTML5 apps within Safari on iOS devices

16 Jun 2011

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In a move enigmatically titled ‘Project Spartan’, Facebook is understood to be working on an HTML5 strategy that could see Facebook’s mobile webpage become a distribution method for other apps on iOS devices, as opposed to Apple’s App Store.

In recent days, it emerged that Facebook is secretly working on a clever iOS photo sharing app that ties in location and takes on burgeoning rivals in the form of Instagram, Color and Path.

According to TechCrunch, Facebook is actually working on something even bigger – an ecosystem that will work via iOS devices using Safari and users to get apps from Facebook rather than the Apple App Store.

In a move that TechCrunch describes as move to “use Apple’s own devices against them and break the stranglehold they have over app distribution”, Facebook’s Project Spartan is entirely HTML5-based and will work in Safari.

It is believed there are 80 or so developers working on the project.

A victory for HTML5 over Flash

If the news is correct, then it will be another nail in the coffin for Flash on smartphone devices and a victory for HTML5.

It is strangely a fitting move for Facebook, which has been nurturing a massive community of developers and partners, such as Zynga, which no doubt wants to maximise the mobile landscape and move smoothly from the desktop to the smartphone and tablet.

Facebook has no intention of seeing these developers leave its ecosystem for potentially more lucrative climes, and at the same time it wants to maximise its success in mobile.

The social networking site has no intention of creating its own smartphone and has no need to as device manufacturers like HTC have created devices dedicated to the social network, such as the ChaCha, which has a dedicated Facebook button.

Some 250m of its 700m user base globally access Facebook via a mobile device every day, and if you were to study Facebook’s own iOS or Android app you’ll realise it isn’t just an app, it’s a representation of the entire ecosystem of Facebook, from your friends to Places and more.

There’s nothing stopping Facebook going down this particular road via a Safari page or an extra button contained in an update for its app.

Well, of course, there is a Steve Jobs in Cupertino, California, who will probably have something to say about this.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com