Thursday brought reports that Facebook planned to hold an app-themed press event this evening in San Francisco to launch its long-awaited HTML5-based App Store. However Facebook confirmed with TechCrunch that it won't launch the store for another couple of weeks. The company also confirmed that it has been testing App Center with a small percentage of users since it was introduced to developers last month.
But there are reports that it's already live for many users using an iOS device -- individuals who may unknowingly be enlisted in Facebook's trial run. Facebook stated that the store is already driving plenty of traffic, and could further assist developers trying to gain some traction. In May alone, Facebook sent more than 160 million visitors to mobile apps -- only 60 million were driven back in late February.
App Store will reportedly look and perform like Apple's iTunes App Store, only end-users won't be required to download an actual app. Instead, users will connect their Facebook profile to HTML5-based games and websites -- aka apps -- that want them to sign up as a Facebook user. Essentially App Store will not only be a competitor to Apple and Google, but a social layer that also runs across their platforms.
But there also seems to be an underlying motive behind the App Store. Offering links to HTML5 sites in the App Store and the News Feeds prevents users from searching for the sites via Google's search engine. That way, if users haven't already added Travelocity, Seamless, Pinterest, Ticketmaster, Etsy, or any other Facebook connected Web site to their list of Facebook apps, they'll simply find it listed in Facebook's App Center, cutting Google out of the loop entirely.
Currently Facebook offers an Apps & Games section which leads to apps like Farmville, Cityville, Flixter, The Huffington Post and a few others. This will be replaced by the App Store and feature a more store-like appearance, sporting featured apps along the top, and listing other under Recommended, Social Picks, Top Apps and other categories.
Clicking through to an app will pull up a dedicated page offering a description, user rating and a list of Facebook friends that are actually using the app. This is what will put a hurting on Apple and Google: not only will the apps not need local installation, but they'll essentially be advertized by friends. Who needs an editor or anonymous user to leave a review when old school mates, family members and co-workers -- people you personally know and trust -- are willing to offer their opinion.
Facebook and Google have seemingly been in a rivalry ever since Facebook refused to offer user data to the search engine giant. Previously Google allowed Facebook users to import their Gmail contacts, but decided to pull the plug once it was determined that the data sharing between Google and Facebook would only be a one-way street.
Since then, Facebook has teamed up with Microsoft's Bing to offer search results within Facebook itself. There's talk that Facebook is cranking out an even bigger, deeper search engine in conjunction with Bing so that users don't have to jump off the social website and search for webpages and items through Google. The upcoming App Store is probably part of that larger scheme.
UPDATE: Facebook programmer Bruce Rogers said on Thursday night that the App Store is officially rolling out to Android and iOS users in the United States on Friday, June 9. The rest of the world will see the new storefront in the next few weeks.