Facebook's evil plot to subvert Apple commission with HTML5

Project Spartan is a version of the Facebook UI that will run completely in a browser - specifically the Webkit-based Mobile Safari that shipped on over 200 million iOS devices.

If Facebook has one thing going for it, it's critical mass. With almost 700 million users and over 250 million active mobile users Facebook is nothing short of an Internet phenom and it's looking to capitalize on its dominant market position.

No, I don't mean that Facebook is finally building an iPad app or developing some "secret" photo app (yawnsville!) -- think much bigger than that.

According to TechCrunch's MG Siegler, the covert Project Spartan is a version of the Facebook UI that will run completely in a browser - specifically the Webkit browser found in over 200 million iOS devices, a.k.a. Mobile Safari.

Why? Because it’s the one area of the device that Facebook will be able to control (or mostly control).

Facebook will never admit this, but those familiar with the project believe the intention is very clear: to use Apple’s own devices against them to break the stranglehold they have on mobile app distribution.

Siegler explains that Facebook's motivation for creating an HTML5 version of its portal is (surprise, surprise) the almighty dollar:

Imagine loading up the mobile web version of Facebook and finding a drop-down for a new type of app. Clicking on one of the apps loads it (from whatever server it’s on depending on the app-maker), and immediately a Facebook wrapper is brought in to surround the app. This wrapper will give the app some basic Facebook functionality, as well as the ability to use key Facebook elements — like Credits.

The operative part of that paragraph is the part about Facebook Credits. You see, anything sold via the App Store or as an in-app purchase is subject to Apple's 30 percent commission, whereas anything sold from a Web site from within Safari is not.

Facebook would rather sell you Credits for its mega-popular hits directly and skip the middleman altogether. The top 10 Facebook games have more than 220 million Monthly Active Users (MAU), which is more than the totality of iOS devices ever sold (estimated at 200 million).

The top five Facebook games alone account for more than 160 million monthly active users on Facebook:

  1. FarmVille - 55,502,307 MAU
  2. Texas HoldEm Poker - 36,854,573 MAU
  3. FrontierVille - 28,380,967 MAU
  4. Mafia Wars - 23,388,135 MAU
  5. Café World - 18,240,550 MAU

Facebook is looking to make its Credits the defacto currency of the Web and it's loathe to pay a toll to Apple just because some of its users -- ok, many of its users -- happen to fancy iDevices.

Short of charging a commission for sales in Safari (which would be absurd), what could Apple possibly do to respond?

Image: Electric Info