Last night, TechCrunch leaked some details of a new initiative taking place over at Facebook called "Project Spartan." This project aims to utilize HTML5 to free Facebook (and Facebook games) from App Store dependence, essentially putting the ball back in Facebook's hands for control over their platform. If you're not privy to the differences between HTML5 and native apps downloaded through the App Store, I'll break it down for you real quick so you can understand why this matters:

Currently, if you want to release an app or game on the App Store, you need to build it in Xcode using C, C++, or Objective-C, using the documented API's available for developers. To submit said game/app to the App Store, you need a valid developer account which costs $99 a year and your game/app needs to abide by Apple's guidelines. Updates to existing games/apps need to go through the same process, and pushing an update out not only requires an additional trip through the week (or more) long approval process, but also depends on users to actually download said update. When you think about it that way, there sure are a lot of hoops to jump through.

Alternatively, your can build your game/app using HTML5. This won't allow you to access many of the features and functionality of the device as easily (or, really, at all) compared to a native app, but taking this road puts the developer in the driver seat instead of Apple. There are other drawbacks as well, such as requiring online connectivity, although clever resource caching can get around this to some extent, and until WebGL support matures there's not really an easy way to do any kind of 3D.

Where a HTML5 distribution model greatly favors Facebook and social game developers like Zynga is that they can instantly and seamlessly push out updates to their platform. In fact, one of the original criticisms that Zynga had, and one of the reasons why Farmville [Free] took so long to be released on the App Store is that the week or longer delays for each update doesn't jive with Zynga's rapid-fire update model. Those of you who are familiar with Zynga Facebook games are fully aware, but it seems like there's something new being added on a near-daily basis.

In addition, by utilizing your own payment infrastructure with your HTML5 game/app, you're able to completely sidestep Apple's required 30% cut. While coming up with an entire payment system might be too much for most developers to handle, Facebook already has their credits system in place that millions of people are already using today. Also, when you're looking at things in the scope of Facebook's massive userbase, that 30% savings that would have gone to Apple can easily add up to millions of dollars.

HTML5 works great for games as Sarien.net proved a while back, and it's fantastic for apps as well. Give Google Docs a spin on your device for a great display of just what's possible with some clever coding. With these two examples, it's not hard to imagine what Facebook and Facebook game developers could come up with.

TechCrunch also notes another interesting aspect of Project Spartan: Even though Facebook is essentially pushing to distribute its content outside of the bounds of the App Store (and with 700m users, they likely have the muscle to do it), transitioning developers like Zynga to HTML5 and away from Flash only serves to further diminish Flash reliance in the gaming world.

Allegedly, 80 developers are currently involved in Project Spartan. It's hard to imagine this having much of an impact on the App Store in general, but historically speaking, underestimating the power of Facebook has been a terrible thing to do.

[via TechCrunch]

  • Adams Immersive

    HTML5 could be great for certain games, and Apple makes a great HTML5 platform. They’d love to see HTML5 Facebook games instead of, say, battery-slurping Flash.

    Most games (the best ones anyway) will always be native, and most devs will never run into any App Store rules that would bother them much anyway. Not enough to turn down those millions of gamers with Apple IDs and credit cards....

    • Thaurin

      You think HTML5 isn't battery-slurping? Depending on whether it's a really simple game, I can see HTML5 using up even more power than Flash, personally (untested hypothesis).

    • Thaurin

      You think HTML5 isn't battery-slurping? Depending on whether it's a really simple game, I can see HTML5 using up even more power than Flash, personally (untested hypothesis).

      • Adams Immersive

        It certainly can be. (So can a native app; anything running the GPU in 3D for instance will always need some power.) But with Apple and the WebKit folks working to make HTML5 and JavaScript as efficient as possible, I rate their chances better than Adobe’s track record!

        There will never be a rule that says one method is ALWAYS more battery-hungry. But I use lots of web apps on my Mac, and they don’t crank up the fans the way a simple near-static Flash banner ad will. Flash seems to burn battery when doing basically nothing! HTML5 seems to be able to idle nicely, at the very least.

      • Steve

        An app's battery utilization is heavily dependent on the developer regardless of if it's native, flash or html5. I'm sure once html5 becomes commonplace we will have a glut of crappy html5 apps as well.

      • Adams Immersive

        Definitely true. (And there already are.) But battery usage isn’t just the developer, it’s also the tools the developer has to work with.

      • Adams Immersive

        Definitely true. (And there already are.) But battery usage isn’t just the developer, it’s also the tools the developer has to work with.

      • Adams Immersive

        It certainly can be. (So can a native app; anything running the GPU in 3D for instance will always need some power.) But with Apple and the WebKit folks working to make HTML5 and JavaScript as efficient as possible, I rate their chances better than Adobe’s track record!

        There will never be a rule that says one method is ALWAYS more battery-hungry. But I use lots of web apps on my Mac, and they don’t crank up the fans the way a simple near-static Flash banner ad will. Flash seems to burn battery when doing basically nothing! HTML5 seems to be able to idle nicely, at the very least.

  • nizy

    @ Eli, I think you're being both naive and misleading regarding costs and Apple's 30% cut. Firstly Apple has stated before that both iTubes and the app store are break even services, meaning that 30% basically covers its costs. Also that 30% doesn't just cover credit card charges, but the huge bandwidth costs, marketing efforts (such as weekly featured content, emails, tv ads), support, maintenance, new development etc. As iTunes and the app store are so huge, Apple will also benefit from economies of scale, as with say bandwidth, it needs so much that the rates will likely get lower per mb. If a developer does all this themselves, it will be hard work, could be even more costly and would users even trust said system? And if you go with Facebook's system, well they'll be taking their cut somewhere along the line.

    • getaclue

      If you actually believe apple's just breaking even on the app store/itunes I have a bridge to sell you.

      • Adams Immersive

        I’d be interested in the source of your numbers.

        30% sounds huge. The costs for what is provides are also huge. (Including pushing out every update to all your users for free.) And the benefits to the developer? Also huge.

        But I don’t have solid numbers on Apple’s costs, and it sounds like you might?

      • Anonymous

        I agree. I'm sure servers cost plenty of money, but 30% of what Apple rakes in is huuuuuge.

      • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

        Pffft... so this is Facebook's next business model? Licking the floor for Steve Jobs' tablescraps? Get real. 

    • getaclue

      If you actually believe apple's just breaking even on the app store/itunes I have a bridge to sell you.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      I think you missed the point I was making completely. To the Facebooks and Zyngas of the world, Apple's 30% is money out of their pocket. These are massive mega-corportations now that already have the infrastructure in place to offer these kind of HTML5 apps, they've got payment gateways in place that millions of people are already using/trusting (Facebook "credits"), and routing their payment through the IAP system just results in Apple soaking 30% with very little benefit to them. Facebook takes a similar 30% cut in their credit system, but the benefit these large developers have with their freemium web-based game is that they can push out all the same updates in real time, across every platform that can run a HTML5 game (which is basically any Mac/PC/Smartphone) without need to worry about any kind of approval process, update propagation, or anything else.

      Obviously I don't expect indie developers to branch out and start their own HTML5 App Stores complete with new payment systems, but Facebook has the critical mass to do it with ease, and likely could finance the entire project on the 30% cost savings they'll get in no time. Something to consider: Apple has sold 250m iOS devices, per WWDC. Facebook has 500m active users, half of those visit the site on a daily basis. If 1% of their active users even switch over to this new platform, that's 5m people, which in itself would be an incredible userbase for basically any developer to target.

      • Adams Immersive

        There are apps I’d like to make that would be fine as HTML5, and I wouldn’t say no to a way to monetize them! Much like Amazon is my second-choice music store, but I’m still happy to have the option!

      • Adams Immersive

        There are apps I’d like to make that would be fine as HTML5, and I wouldn’t say no to a way to monetize them! Much like Amazon is my second-choice music store, but I’m still happy to have the option!

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      I think you missed the point I was making completely. To the Facebooks and Zyngas of the world, Apple's 30% is money out of their pocket. These are massive mega-corportations now that already have the infrastructure in place to offer these kind of HTML5 apps, they've got payment gateways in place that millions of people are already using/trusting (Facebook "credits"), and routing their payment through the IAP system just results in Apple soaking 30% with very little benefit to them. Facebook takes a similar 30% cut in their credit system, but the benefit these large developers have with their freemium web-based game is that they can push out all the same updates in real time, across every platform that can run a HTML5 game (which is basically any Mac/PC/Smartphone) without need to worry about any kind of approval process, update propagation, or anything else.

      Obviously I don't expect indie developers to branch out and start their own HTML5 App Stores complete with new payment systems, but Facebook has the critical mass to do it with ease, and likely could finance the entire project on the 30% cost savings they'll get in no time. Something to consider: Apple has sold 250m iOS devices, per WWDC. Facebook has 500m active users, half of those visit the site on a daily basis. If 1% of their active users even switch over to this new platform, that's 5m people, which in itself would be an incredible userbase for basically any developer to target.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      I think you missed the point I was making completely. To the Facebooks and Zyngas of the world, Apple's 30% is money out of their pocket. These are massive mega-corportations now that already have the infrastructure in place to offer these kind of HTML5 apps, they've got payment gateways in place that millions of people are already using/trusting (Facebook "credits"), and routing their payment through the IAP system just results in Apple soaking 30% with very little benefit to them. Facebook takes a similar 30% cut in their credit system, but the benefit these large developers have with their freemium web-based game is that they can push out all the same updates in real time, across every platform that can run a HTML5 game (which is basically any Mac/PC/Smartphone) without need to worry about any kind of approval process, update propagation, or anything else.

      Obviously I don't expect indie developers to branch out and start their own HTML5 App Stores complete with new payment systems, but Facebook has the critical mass to do it with ease, and likely could finance the entire project on the 30% cost savings they'll get in no time. Something to consider: Apple has sold 250m iOS devices, per WWDC. Facebook has 500m active users, half of those visit the site on a daily basis. If 1% of their active users even switch over to this new platform, that's 5m people, which in itself would be an incredible userbase for basically any developer to target.

  • SingingPenguin

    tsss...why would anybody call their kid 'eli' or 'hodapp'....(no offense)

    • Anonymous

      Psst hey buddy, you meant to post this comment on the Gameloft article above... This makes no sense here.

  • http://morereasonsyoushouldntfuckkids.tumblr.com Chungyen Chang

    Just wanted to make a small correction:

    "API's"  should be "APIs".  You never use an apostrophe to denote plural nouns, except in the case of single letters (P's and Q's). 

  • Grrr

    I've always thought that this is the reason Jobs doesn't like Flash - nothing to do with security and everything to do with protecting their app store model.

    • nomster

      hmmmm maybe but doubt it - most Flash-based games are crap

      Funny thing is, even now, three years after the launch of the iPhone sans Flash, those devices supporting it still call it a beta

      gotta be something up..... no?

    • Soul of Wit

      Flash runs poorly in non-Windows environments. It's not that complicated of a concept.

    • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

      Oh you mean like.. how everytime I run flash, my computer's fan turns on? Gee, let me think. Oh yeah, its buggy and kills battery. Screw off.

  • Anonymous

    I can't help but think about that little movie called "300." In this case, Facebook is Sparta and Apple is Persia, except I don't know if that would be so accurate these days. Both are pretty Persians.

  • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

    Sorry but if you think making Safari-exclusive App Store is a threat to Apple you should have your head examined. Apple makes tons of money selling iOS devices. This will ONLY push that further. Stop trying to create drama where there is none.

  • Basalt

    I know your site is based on ads.  So you believe ads are good.  But I will always pay for an app if I don't have ads and can play it offline.  I really don't want to have a huge data bill to play portable games.  I find your logic really poorly laid out also.  Apple doesn't care about competing in HTML5 space.  Facebook can do what it wants.  Apple only wants to curate the app store, and make it a safe place to not worry about bricking your phone.  The tone of the article is really poor, I expect more from this site.  I think developers want to make money, and many of them want to do that without making a lame experience for their customers with ads.

  • Dyscode

    I won't even start to think about how often Apple spared us from the phishing crap you are attacked using HTML5 on the web. These few iDevs who had the trouble (or think they had) have my sympathy. But my saftey is worth it. These days you can istall any app without being robbed without your consent. That has to be worth something.

  • david cervinka

    A awesome website for html5 games.

    http://www.html5-games.com