Two years ago, Google made the claim that browser-based apps were the future of application delivery. Vic Gundotra, Google engineering VP, even made the claim that the web had "won" and the App Store could not serve the needs of an increasingly wide variety of users. Facebook seems to agree with this reasoning- hence Project Spartan.
This entirely browser-based app platform is being built for the Safari mobile browser. It will be the first competition the App Store has had to deal with on their own turf. From Apple's point of view, the threat here is very real and damnably frustrating. They'll have no power over Project Spartan apps. For the first time, Apple will not have mastery over their whole domain.
If Facebook's wild gambit works, and the early signs are very positive, competitors can't be very far behind. And the most likely source of competition seems to be Google. They have a stated interest in browser-based apps and a very real need to compete with Facebook and Apple. But how would an also-ran browser-based app store gel with the Android Market?
Google believes the future is not in app stores, but they've done a very good job of chaining themselves to the #2 app store on the planet. This makes their next step frustratingly hard to predict. How would Google go about bringing their Project Spartan-analog to Android? They could limit their browser-based apps to competing mobile platforms. Android uses would have access to the market and people with iOS or WP7 (or whatever) devices would still be able to enjoy a subset of Android apps via their browser store.
That move might prove wildly short-sighted though. If Google goes into this with the goal of "augmenting" the App Market and not changing the way people think of apps, they'll be the tech industry equivalent of late to the party with a six pack of Keystone. If browser-based apps really are the future, Google needs to do much more than build an extension to their existing Market. Which begs the question: how can Google differentiate their browser-based app store?
The appeal of Facebook's Spartan is immediately obvious. Millions of people already use Facebook to share photos and play games and stay connected. Browser-based apps will make all of that more convenient on the one gadget most of us carry around at all times: our smartphone. You don't have to work hard to make that case to users.
So what can Google offer? Their open-source, minimal censorship approach means a wider variety of content (think games too 'mature' for iOS or Facebook's family-friendly policies) and more freedom for developers. That approach has made the Android Market quite successful- but not nearly as successful as the App Store.
One way the search giant could pull in an enormous amount of users would be to offer their Maps Navigation app via the browser. That could minimize one of Android's great competitive advantages. But that move would be enough to draw millions of loyal Apple users just a tiny bit into Google's fold.