Why Facebook wants more Android developer friends


There are plenty of consumers who "like" Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) apps that run on their Android devices, but the social networking giant is working harder than ever to ensure developers love integrating with its platform.

The company recently unveiled a revamped Android SDK as well as a new Android Dev Center with additional tools and resources for building social apps. Backwards compatible with the previous version, the beta of Facebook Android SDK 3.0 includes a number of pre-built app fragments to speed the development process for creating apps. Login controls, for example, are designed to make it easier to manage identity and related permissions inside the app, while Friend Picker allows app users to tag their Facebook friends or find others who have installed it.

Android SDK 3.0 beta comes not long after Facebook offered an iOS SDK and is a sign of Facebook's intentions to create a more supportive environment for developers of all kinds. Although Facebook did not respond by press time to requests from FierceDeveloper, CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussed the company's mobile strategy during the Q&A portion of the company's third-quarter earnings call with investors last week.

Facebook Android SDK 3.0 Beta Highlights:
Session management made simple: Developers will be able to automate support for low memory through an optional Activity base class. "The modular design handles details you don't care about while giving you more control when you need it," Facebook said in a blog post.
Measure each install: Facebook's mobile ads product will allow developers to capture clicks that come from their online marketing efforts.
Right back at you: Developers will enjoy quicker response to parallel API times by batching SDK requests for Facebook API calls, the company said. JSON data related to Facebook will also be more easily managed, which should mean more simple reading and writing to Facebook and fewer coding errors, the company said.

"What I see on mobile is, I don't think that developers are going to be building apps that are literally inside the Facebook app, but what we do see is a lot of success in getting developers to connect their apps to Facebook," Zuckerberg said. "We don't directly compete with iOS or Android to be a platform for developers as an environment for building apps. We think that we can basically build an environment, or build this information platform, that goes across iOS and Android and mobile Web and every other mobile platform that's out there, where every developer who's building anything on anything can use Facebook, and we think that puts us in a really strong position."

So far, response from the Android community to Facebook's new resources seems to be positive. By providing native UI controls not found in other SDKs such as the PHP SDK or Javascript SDK, Facebook is making sure nothing will slow developers down when building native Android apps, said Todd Chafee, president of London-based social media firm Bluecrow.biz.

"I have been aware of Facebook heavily shifting focus to mobile apps for over a year now. They are showing just how serious they are," he said. "What impressed me the most was the new section of the Facebook Developer Center dedicated just to Android. They've got sample Android apps, a reference section, a getting started guide, technical guides and more than we've had time to completely digest yet." 

Facebook offers step-by-step directions for working with the Facebook SDK for Android.

Xatik Group LLC, which makes mobile games and entertainment apps, is an example of the kind of developer Facebook needs to court in order to further its penetration of the Android community. Up until now, however, integration with the social network and its apps like Droid Draw has been less than easy, according to co-founder and CEO Craig Martin.

"At the moment, we don't have many apps and the one app that does interact with Facebook barely does," Martin said, adding that even the one that does interact with Facebook is using another third-party API, Scoreloop. "This isn't because we hate Facebook, it's because the third-party solution integrated Facebook with many other features that we needed."

According to Facebook, there are 600 million monthly active users on its mobile website using apps for Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS. That represents more half of Facebook's 1.01 billion users. While this helps explain the company's increasing interest in the developer community, during the earnings call Zuckerberg said Facebook has never been an environment for running apps but has remained focused on information sharing. "Even on the desktop, when you have these games that are very deeply connected to Facebook, they're not building in some kind of Facebook environment. They're basically building websites that connect with Facebook and make it so that you can pull your friends in and then use Facebook for distribution and sharing."

While Zuckerberg may not want to worry investors that Facebook is competing with Apple or Google's app stores, Martin said the social platform represents an ever-important force on which the fortunes of apps depend.

"It's something that is impossible to ignore," he said. "If you get one Facebook user on the app, there's a great chance their friends will soon find out about your app."

Chafee pointed out that Facebook's support hasn't been limited to what it offers online but has included an increasing physical presence where developers congregate.

"When you also consider that the past couple of Facebook-sponsored hackathons we attended were focused on mobile app development, and some of the London Facebook employees are regularly attending mobile developer meetups, you can be well assured that Android developers are going to get lots of love from Facebook if they decide to use the new SDK," he said.

Martin said the potential to reach consumers on a more personal level through the world's largest social media site means Xatik will likely be among those developers.

"It may be worth taking a second look at implementing some of the new APIs into our apps," he said.