Facebook could be hedging its bets on the future of mobile applications versus the development of the mobile Web with a secret project to build an HTML5-compliant mobile Web site that could be a huge turning point in the mobile strategies of Facebook and its partners.
Techcrunch reports that Project Spartan involves about 80 Facebook engineers working on a development platform that would allow Facebook to deploy a complete mobile Web site in hopes of bypassing Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and the App Store. The idea would be that Facebook could set the terms and conditions for Facebook applications that run within the browser, while Apple will always be involved to a certain extent with native applications that are distributed through the App Store, such as with payments.
Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and others have been talking up the promise of the mobile Web for several years, but the functionality just isn’t quite there yet, and as a result many companies simply opt for the best solution at the moment–the native application–and supplement that work with basic mobile Web sites. Were someone with the reach and heft of Facebook to successfully demonstrate what can be done on a mobile browser, however, it might set off further investment in Web applications on mobile that would erode the control that Apple and Google have over iOS and Android, respectively.
That’s not a given, as Google’s several excellent mobile Web sites haven’t managed to pull off the same feat, but it does show that more and more of the larger companies on the Web are realizing they can control their own destiny in mobile. For example, if Facebook pulls off Project Spartan, it could have a ripple effect among partners like Zynga, who wouldn’t necessarily have to develop separate iPhone applications for each social game: it could just roll out new games on the Web the same way it does on Facebook’s desktop Web application platform. The partners could also do more with things like Facebook Credits and in-app subscriptions without having to share revenue with Apple.