Facebook tonight unveiled its mobile App Center as it amps up its efforts to improve its mobile business.
The new app center, the company's first big announcement since its IPO, went live tonight with more than 600 apps, including Nike+ GPS, Ubisoft Ghost Recon Commander, Stitcher Radio, Draw Something, and Pinterest.
"The app center represents a new way for users to discover social applications," said Douglas Purdy, Facebook's director of developer products, who showed off the App Center at a launch party in San Francisco. Plus, he says, it gives developers a way to reach Facebook's more than 900 million users. Facebook was responsible for 83 million visits to the Apple App Store in May, Facebook said.
The App Center is designed to offer an experience personalized for each user, with app recommendations based on the apps they and their friends use. So if you're a person who likes word games -- something Facebook would know from your Facebook behavior -- the App Center will surface those sorts of apps for you. Then, when you select an app you like, you'll be sent to the Apple's App Store or Google's, depending on your device.
Even so, most Facebook users will have to wait before they can check out the App Center. Tonight's rollout -- full of big stats and optimism at an event it held in San Francisco -- will only go live for between 6 percent and 8 percent of Facebook's U.S. users, said Matt Wyndowe, the company's product manager for games and apps. The company it will roll out to all U.S. users in the coming weeks. Eventually, said Wyndowe, there will be different App Centers customized for different parts of the word.
Ultimately, Facebook wants the algorithms to do most of the work in figuring out apps to feature. And given Facebook's huge audience, a prominent spot will surely be a boon to developers -- much as getting featured in Apple's App Store can turn an app into a hit.Facebook's team has been working to approve apps that it would feature for the rollout. For now, the company is relying on a mix of algorithms and humans to decide what apps it features. He said his team is reviewing apps for technical aspects and functionality. "We review them all," said Wyndowe.
Asked if Facebook was considering selling digital goods and apps directly to consumers --taking on Google and Apple -- Wyndowe said it's not in the immediate plans.
The App Center is available on mobile via the Facebook apps for iOS and Android, and by accessing Facebook.com on mobile. A huge amount of Facebook's mobile traffic goes through the mobile Web, not via apps.
Today's announcement comes a month after Facebook first said it was launching an App Center, which it billed mainly as a way to help users discover the best social apps and to drum up interest from developers.
Facebook is under enormous pressure to figure out ways to make money from mobile. And in the run up to the IPO, Zuckerberg told investors that mobile was his key priority for 2012.
Today's announcement amps up its mobile efforts, but it doesn't help it turn mobile traffic into dollars. "Nothing has changed about monetization," said Wyndowe. "For us, it's about how do we delight users."
Of course, it's also about how Facebook gathers data from its users. In that way, the App Center should help a ton as more and more people use apps that are integrated with Facebook.
The company has recently been making others changes to its mobile products as well. Just yesterday it rolled out a "low-friction" mobile payment system to make it easier to make payments for virtual or digital goods via its app. And last month it redesigned itsmobile interfaceto display larger photos.
Facebook had 488 million monthly average unique users of its mobile products in March -- more than half of its 901 million users in all -- and is only just starting to experiment with ways to make money from mobile. One problem is that it simply can't show as many ads on a mobile device since the screens are smaller.
Facebook's mobile challenge -- a challenge shared by most all Web companies -- has contributed to the wave pessimism about Facebook's stock. Shares of Facebook closed today at $26.31, more than 30 percent down from their offering price of $38 a share.