After a series of failures, Facebook announced today a promising plan that will finally give it the mobile platform it’s been trying to figure out for years.
Last year, it took a shot at creating its own pseudo mobile operating system with Facebook Home, an Android app that replaced your home screen with a pretty stream of photos and updates from your Facebook feed. It was a dud.
Then there were the series of separate mobile apps like Poke, Camera, and Paper that have largely failed to resonate with people. Most seem to be happy with the regular Facebook app, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger.
But at today’s F8 developers conference, Facebook unveiled some new tools that will give Facebook a deeper level of control over your phone, no matter what kind of device you use.
The most important one is called App Link, a tool that developers can use to help their apps and websites talk to each other.
To use Facebook’s example, imagine looking up a movie review on your phone on the mobile Rotten Tomatoes site. Well, what happens if you want to use the Fandango app to buy tickets to that movie? As things stand now, you’d have to close out your browser, launch the Fandango app, and then search for the movie again. With App Link, the Rotten Tomatoes developers would be able to provide you with a link that lets you jump right into the movie’s ticket page in the Fandango app. In theory, it’s seamless.
That process is also called deep linking, and it’s been a messy problem for app developers until now. Apple, Google, and Microsoft don’t make it very easy for developers to use deep linking on their respective mobile operating systems. App Link is open for any developer to use, so over the next few months you can expect to see more and more of your apps start playing nicely with each other.
For a long time, smart mobile industry watchers have said someone needs to figure out how to become the “Google of mobile apps.” Google was able to organize the information stored in websites, but no one has nailed the process in mobile apps. It’s an important task too because mobile is the next big computing platform, but most people use apps for everything, not websites. And right now, Google, Apple, and Microsoft don’t make it very easy for apps to talk to each other cross-platform.
Facebook’s App Link does. And the implication of that means Facebook could essentially have insight into all the apps and content on your phone, not just the ones it makes. That’s incredibly valuable to Facebook (it’ll be able to gather a lot of information about the apps you use) and incredibly valuable to you (your smartphone will be a lot easier to use).
In short, Facebook now has the opportunity to make your smartphone easier to use, while still wrestling control away Apple, Google, and Microsoft.