Facebook becoming a 'mobile company' with app user growth

The world is still waiting for a Facebook iPad app, but Facebook's head of mobile products discusses a recent acquisition is helping the social network deploy a unified experience on a larger scale.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

Mobile platforms are becoming as important -- if not more so -- than desktop releases, according to Erick Tseng, head of mobile products at Facebook.

Referring to the announcement of Timeline at last week's f8 Developers Forum, Tseng told the audience at GigaOM's Mobilize 2011 forum in San Francisco on Tuesday that one of the most interesting parts of the launch is that most of it will be ready for mobile platforms immediately.

That's essential as out of Facebook's 800 million users (and counting), approximately 350 million of them are mobile users. Tseng predicted that within just a year or two, almost half of Facebook's users will be using the mobile platform.

"We are going to become a mobile company," said Tseng.

Tseng pointed out that the growth of mobile usage is faster, especially in regions such as India, Africa and Southeast Asia, because Facebook is entering additional coutnries where often times, most citizens don't have access to computers as much as they do to cell phones.

To better serve these members as well as enable access for new ones, Facebook is making use of the technology it acquired with the purchase of the Isreal-based startup Snaptu. Tseng said that Snaptu's fills a "rather gaping hole" in Facebook's portfolio as it can serve up mobile web pages on cell phones in under a minute. The project, dubbed "Facebook for every phone," is now being used on at least 2,500 phones worldwide using just this one app.

As for more advanced mobile devices -- thus, smartphones -- Tseng affirmed that we now have a lot of devices where Facebook isn't only pre-loaded, but baked into the operating system. Thus, developers "can plug into that social graph, that social goodness" without much effort.

As for the iPhone, users still have to download it, but that doesn't mean it's not a concern to Facebook. After all, the Facebook app is still the top free, non-native app for both iOS and Android. Although Facebook doesn't have iOS 5 integration like Twitter does, Tseng said that he hopes to see the platform soon.

"We're supremely focused on delivering what users want," Tseng affirmed.

Tseng remained upbeat when asked about Google+, describing the budding social network as "great." 

"Competition really is good. The greatest beneficiary here are the users," Tseng said, explaining that they are constantly pushing each other in terms of new products.

"if something fails, you kill it quickly and move onto the next thing," he added. Tseng admitted he has tried Google+, but said that he doesn't have "enough time to do more than just my Facebook social stuff." Thus, he stopped using it, which garnered a bit of laughter from the audience.

Nevertheless, Tseng put on a diplomatic front, leaving the door open to the possibility for more than one major social network.

"Depending on what your needs are, you might go to different services," Tseng acknowledged.

Of course, one can't talk about Facebook and mobile without asking about the new Facebook rumor du jour: an official iPad app.

"The iPad is great, a fantastic device. Nothing to announce at this time," Tseng said, "For all of you that really want to get the Facebook fix, there are a bunch of apps out there not made by us." 

When asked about another rumored product, a Facebook-branded phone, Tseng laughed.

"When I say a platform, I truly mean a platform -- a service for software," Tseng explained, adding that every phone should be social. 

He concluded, "That's the beginning of what we really see when we see a mobile/social platform."

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