Facebook Prepping HTML5 Mobile-App Platform: Report

Facebook is prepping "Project Spartan," an HTML5-based platform for mobile apps that could challenge Apple's App Store, according to a new report.

Facebook could be prepping an HTML5-based platform for mobile apps, something that could end up directly challenging Apple's App Store.

"The initial target is both surprising and awesome: mobile Safari," TechCrunch's MG Siegler, who claims to have seen the project firsthand, wrote in a June 15 posting. "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."

He goes on to claim that "80 or so outside developers" are currently working with the social network on the project, which works in a very streamlined fashion: from the mobile Web version of Facebook, tap an app you want to load, and watch it run within a "Facebook wrapper." Moreover, users could access Facebook features like credits within the context of the app, which would bring the platform even closer to being an App Store challenger.

"Android will also clearly be a part of this new platform," he wrote. "But we're told that the initial target is definitely mobile Safari on iOS devices."

Apple and Facebook's relationship status is definitely complicated. In September 2010, Apple launched Ping, a social-networking service built to allow millions of iTunes users to share their opinions on music and artists. It connected with Twitter, but Facebook refused to build a way to interoperate with Apple's network; Apple CEO Steve Jobs told AllThingsD's Kara Swisher that Mark Zuckerberg's company wanted "onerous terms that we could not agree to."

Facebook has also been moving closer to Microsoft, which owns a minority stake in the social network. In February, Bing began incorporating Facebook data into its algorithmic search. Resulting features include the ability to see, in search results, which Websites your friends "Liked." In any case, Microsoft will surely applaud any effort to blunt Apple's momentum in the mobile space, although an HTML5-based apps platform has the potential to work against Microsoft's own attempt to build an app ecosystem around its Windows Phone.

Facebook is also reportedly prepping a photo-sharing service for mobile devices. While details remain scarce, TechCrunch's MG Siegler posted some screenshots June 15 that seem to show an application similar to other mobile-photo apps currently on the market. Should this platform see the light of day, it could potentially challenge Color, Instagram and other apps that have lately attracted a good deal of attention and venture-capital dollars.

Facebook's rapid growth has also positioned it on a collision course with Google for ad revenue. Research firm comScore recently suggested the social network posted 31.2 percent of the 1.1 trillion display ads in the United States, outpacing Google, which notched up 2.5 percent of display-ad impressions. Google continues to hold around 95 percent of the market for text-based search ads, although its acquisitions of DoubleClick and YouTube suggest it recognizes the ultimate importance of display ads to its bottom line.