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Facebook and the mobile web

ringmarkFacebook is witnessing a huge opportunity emerge on the mobile Web, with more visitors coming to Facebook’s mobile website than from all its native mobile apps. But while many agree that the Web is the future of mobile development, it’s not nearly as sophisticated a development experience as provided by native apps. Today at the Mobile World Congress, it took some key steps to help secure that future, announcing a set of initiatives that should help standardize mobile Web browsers and enable better payments in mobile Web apps.

Facebook’s CTO Bret Taylor announced it is working with 30 handset manufacturers, carriers and developers to help standardize mobile browsers and put more sophisticated tools in the hands of Web app developers. The W3C Mobile Web Platform Core Community Group — which includes AT&T, Verizon, Samsung,  Mozilla, Opera, Microsoft and others, but not Apple (aapl) or Google — will help developers understand how well their apps will work across different mobile browsers and different devices. To that end, Facebook is also introducing a mobile browser test suite called Ringmark, that will help ensure apps can run on specific browsers.

The idea is to position Facebook as a leading advocate for the mobile Web: the growing promise is that one day we’ll be able to run powerful Web applications inside our mobile browsers that are just as good as those we currently enjoy from the App Store or the Android Market. Believe it not, however, Facebook’s motives are not completely altruistic. Tipping the scale toward mobile Web development also lets Facebook get out from under the control that platform companies such as Apple exert on native mobile development, such as Apple’s insistence that it get a cut of transactions made through iOS apps.

Taylor said that while the backbone of the mobile Web–HTML5–is becoming more prevalent and is often thought of as a single standard, the reality is that it’s still quite fragmented across different mobile devices and browsers. Taylor said Facebook users access the service from 2,500 different varieties of mobile devices. That can be a hurdle for developers looking to deploy mobile Web apps that can run reliably across devices in the way that many native apps can.

The post from Facebook’s Developer Blog:

To help developers reach more people, we’re committed to providing distribution across all platforms. The Open Graph, combined with News Feed and Timeline, helps people discover new apps through friends, regardless of the technology stack used.

We see more people accessing Facebook on the mobile web than from our top native apps combined, so we know the mobile web is important for reach. So why aren’t more people building apps for the mobile web? We hear from developers that there are three challenge areas that make it hard to build on the mobile web: app discovery, mobile browser fragmentation and payments.

App Discovery

Our hope is that Facebook Platform addresses the app discovery issue head-on – by connecting your app to Open Graph, all 425 million people who use Facebook’s mobile apps will be able to discover your app. We’ve been helping people discover iOS and mobile web apps since October, and as announced today in Mobile World Congress, we’ll soon extend this to native Android apps.

Mobile browser fragmentation and payments, on the other hand, are industry-wide problems that no individual company can fix by themselves. Today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona we are excited to announce a couple of industry-wide initiatives to address these issues.

Mobile Browser Fragmentation

When you build for the mobile web today, it’s hard to know which browsers and devices will support your app. Which is why we’re proud to be joining over 30 device manufacturers, carriers, and developers in an industry-wide effort to help accelerate the improvement and standardization of mobile browsers: the W3C Mobile Web Platform Core Community Group. For developers, this makes it easier to understand your app’s potential reach and to help prioritize which browser capabilities are important to you.

At the same time, we’re making Ringmark, a new mobile browser test suite, available today, and we’ll be donating it to the Community Group to build upon. This test suite, developed together with Bocoup, helps you understand which mobile browsers support the functionality your app needs.

Source: GIGAOMFacebook Developer Blog

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