The company doesn't get mobile -- never has. Young as he is, Mark Zuckerberg was raised on the Web, on computers. Remember him saying in 2010 that the company didn't have an iPad app because the iPad "isn't mobile, it's a computer"? Facebook just plain missed it.I think there's a language disconnect here. A notebook computer is "mobile" in the sense that you can take it with you and use it from remote locations. Zuckerberg wouldn't argue with that - he just might use a different word, like "portable". While it's fair to point out that an iPad uses iOS, an operating system designed for mobile devices, due to the much larger screen size the experience of using apps on an iPad can be quite different than the experience on an iPhone. Facebook's platform and profits come from the browser, not the app. If Facebook produces a half-hearted app, inspiring people to use their browser to get a full or even adequate experience, Facebook makes more money both through advertising and by the advancement of its platform. If it allows you to take full advantage of the social world of Facebook via an app, but cannot effectively monetize the app or support social gaming through the app, it's harming itself.
That is to say, Zuckerberg is correct to be concerned about Facebook's becoming "just another app", when he needs to to be a platform.
Recent rumors of Facebook's interest in acquiring Opera may relate to its difficulty gaining traction on tablets and mobile devices. Opera doesn't have much traction on the desktop, but it might be feasible to create a heavily Facebook-flavored browser that would take the place of a hobbled Facebook app on mobile devices, including tablets. If you get people to spend 20% of their online time in your proprietary browser looking at your own content, and get them used to accessing the rest of the Internet through your browser instead of the default browser that comes with the device, you are much better positioned to monetize mobile traffic than if you're "just another app".
Meanwhile, a generation of kids my son's age and older are living their lives solely on mobile devices -- tablets and phones and whatever iterations the future holds. For them, Facebook will be something their parents do, and it's still fundamentally a Web-based experience. It's likely to hold little appeal to them -- and somewhere out there, entrepreneurs thinking along the lines of, say, Dave Morin at Path (ironically, a former Facebooker) are working on products that are born mobile, that skip the Web entirely, that live in the world the next generation lives in.It makes no more sense to pretend that the entire world is mobile than it does to pretend that the entire world is sitting at a desk in front of a traditional, desktop computer. A big part of Facebook's success has been its ability to be inclusive - getting people who barely even use a computer to sign up in order to see photos of distant friends and relatives. No doubt, being the next, big, hot idea among the younger generation or on the mobile platform can translate into profit and success. We've all heard about Instagram. But a future with a hundred "Instagrams" vying for your attention on mobile devices is one of fragmented social media, something quite different than what Facebook offers.
I expect that the actual business plan behind apps "that skip the Web entirely" is to go the way of Instagram, to get snapped up by one of the giant players for a quick, significant profit, not to reinvent the online social world as a mobile-only environment. My guess is that no small number of them will let you register and log in through your Facebook account - in no small part because they're apps and Facebook is a platform.
One last thing,
Simply put: the world is going mobile, it's hard to make money on mobile, and no one is feeling that more painfully than Facebook.Am I the only person who has a problem with the conceit that someone "always" figures out how to monetize online information? If an edition of a newspaper is worth $2 in print, 5 cents when read via a browser, and a cent when read via a mobile device, is the proper conclusion that the newspaper "figured out" how to monetize its online and mobile content, or would it be more accurate to say that some types of content cannot be monetized in the online world at a level that sustains their historic business model? The reality is this: when faced with new business realities some businesses and industries find ways to evolve and make money, others go the way of the stagecoach company and village blacksmith.
But someone will figure it out. Someone always does, and there's always money to be made where the people are. It just won't be Facebook.