Facebook challenging Apple with Project Spartan?

Facebook on iPadFacebook is currently working on an HTML5-based web app for mobile Safari designed to circumvent Apple’s App Store, according to a TechCrunch report.

The application, dubbed Project Spartan, won’t be the first case of a popular tech company going around Apple’s limitations by building a web-only app. Google’s already covered that ground well with its Gmail, Docs, and Maps HTML5 apps. Other notable companies that have decided to work around Apple include the Financial Times and Playboy, which have both released web-optimized HTML5 apps that allow users to subscribe to their content.

The most interesting part of Project Spartan is that “80 or so” third-party developers, including FarmVille and CityVille publisher Zynga, are working with Facebook on it, according to the TechCrunch report. In theory, Facebook members would be able to open Facebook through mobile Safari and then access a collection of games and applications. So Facebook would have its own application offerings tailored for Safari—paid and unpaid—that could run from the web and not have to pay Apple a dime.

If the report is accurate, Facebook’s Spartan could change how companies pursue app development. If it’s ultimately more profitable to build a web app that can charge subscriptions or offer other types of content that Apple won’t allow, developers will move in that direction. Another important reason developers could move to HTML5 is that web apps are easier to maintain and update than apps tailored for a specific device, as you don’t have to wait for a user to download the latest software update.

Yesterday, it was reported Facebook was working on another big project—a photo-sharing iPhone application that aims to beat other photo apps. Nearly 6 billion photos are uploaded to Facebook each month, so it seems completely reasonable for the company to be exploring its options with photos.

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