Facebook forever: mobile and wearable platforms to replace the web (Part III)

Connor Mason
  • Connor Mason
  • August 12, 2014
Facebook forever: mobile and wearable platforms to replace the web (Part III)

Until as recently as last year, Mark Zuckerberg thought of Facebook as a web company. Now, he says, mobile is the company’s “big focus” moving forward. In this series, we’ll examine Facebook’s strategic positioning to become a conglomeration of the best mobile experiences, offer a wealth of features to displace competitors, and build a next-generation mobile platform designed to replace the web.

In just over a decade, Facebook has grown its user base to unimaginable heights and has built an empire that dominates the web. As the company has begun to set its sights on mobile in recent years, it has also started considering what comes next—and making tactical plays to ensure its future success. Going beyond strategic acquisitions and the addition of competitive features, Facebook has been laying the foundation for a mobile and wearable platform that will outlast the web, and perhaps guarantee the company’s continued dominance for the next decade.

Step one: the login button

Facebook’s plan for the future started in 2007 with the launch of Facebook Platform, a suite of services and APIs that allow developers and users to engage with Facebook content across the web and through different apps. Developers can build on the network’s accrued “social graph” of connections between its users to enhance their apps and offer more utility to users. They can skip developing a custom login and accounts system by deploying Facebook Connect, which allows users to sign into a new app or service by simply entering their Facebook account credentials. Facebook was investing in new ways for users to passively and seamlessly move between apps using Facebook, and major companies like Spotify moved to support them.

Source: Facebook Developers

Source: Facebook

From its unique established position, Facebook has sought to become the de facto solution for a persistent identity online. Just as many services require an email address, and many others have adhered to the OpenID authentication protocol in the past, Facebook wants to centralize and standardize users’ disparate login information across the web and mobile. In fact, the company announced at its semi-annual developer conference F8 the addition of Anonymous Login to the Facebook Connect API, allowing users to sign into apps with their Facebook accounts without sharing any of their data with those apps. Sharing data isn’t the most important aspect of Facebook’s login button—it’s the convenience and pervasiveness of the button itself that matters.

Step two: the ubiquitous backend

Facebook doesn’t draw the line at a simple blue button, however. The company acquired cloud backend startup Parse in 2013, adding scalable cross-platform services and developer tools to the Facebook Platform. With Parse, mobile developers can quickly and efficiently build apps that span iOS, Android, and Windows without investing millions into backend services to support data storage, notifications, and user management. Facebook now offers cloud services that can accelerate the growth of new and innovative products, and which are designed to make the addition of Facebook Platform features like login easier and more impactful.

To that end, Facebook also announced a new initiative to kick-start fresh companies called FbStart. In partnership with companies like Adobe and Mailchimp, Facebook is offering eligible startups up to $40,000 worth of free products and services to support their development and growth. But this is more than some venture capital initiative—FbStart provides startups with free tools to add Parse and Facebook Platform functionality to their apps, cementing their partnership with Facebook for mission-critical backend services and analytics. Facebook’s efforts to make it easier for developers to build their apps are mutually beneficial for both parties, as the same tools that help new apps thrive also help Facebook tag along for the ride.

Step three: the new frontier

Technology, as an industry, will never stop evolving. Just as the market has pivoted to mobile in recent years with the explosion of smartphones, tablets, and wearables, Facebook wagers that the next emerging technology will come in the form of virtual reality—and they’re not alone. As Facebook was acquiring Kickstarter darling Oculus earlier this year, companies like Sony with its Project Morpheus and Samsung with its rumored Gear VR headset have been positioning themselves to cash in on the predicted next wave of consumer technology.

Source: The Verge

Source: The Verge

Despite having yet to release a physical product beyond prototypes and development kits, Facebook acquired Oculus VR for $2 billion based on the promise of its Oculus Rift headset. Using binocular screens in a head-mounted enclosure, the system emulates three-dimensional environments and adds an immersive degree of realism to video games. But the future of virtual reality promises more—much more—and Facebook is keen to realize that potential. Just as the web browser is the vehicle that enabled the web, and as the capacitive touch screen gave life to smart phones, so too will Oculus Rift’s innovative binocular approach give rise to the next big industry of virtual reality apps and services. As the visor crawls toward productization, Facebook is surely hard at work finding ways to add virtual reality development and distribution tools to its Platform.

Building on Facebook’s immense development resources and deep pockets, Oculus could spawn an entirely new ecosystem of virtual environments, all connected and curated by Facebook. The company imagines new generation of immersive games and virtual meeting places for users to share and communicate, all built on Facebook’s infrastructure and crafted using Facebook’s development tools. It’s a long play—and by no means a sure bet—but if virtual reality sees the widespread public adoption that pundits have long predicted it will, Facebook could see its user empire extend beyond the web or mobile and into a new frontier that could absorb them both. Virtual reality isn’t science fiction anymore—it’s a business plan.


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