Facebook’s iPad App Was Feature Complete In May, But They Won’t Release It, So The Developer Quit

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You may recall that two months ago, we found and leaked Facebook’s iPad app. What was especially awesome is that the entire app was buried in the code for Facebook’s iPhone app, you just had to do a few tricks to enable it. Once Facebook realized what we found, they took moves to try and shut it down. But it was too late. The app was out there, and looked pretty close to complete. In fact, it turns out it was feature complete at that point.

On his personal blog today, developer Jeff Verkoeyen reveals that Facebook’s iPad app has been feature complete since May. How does he know? He built it. He was the lead engineer on the project. He had been working on it for 8 solid months — sometimes as much as 80 hours a week, he says, to get it done in time. But Facebook’s definition of “in time” kept shifting, Verkoeyen says. And that led him to quit the social network, and join rival Google.

Here’s one key blurb:

It is now nearly 5 months since the app was feature complete and I haven’t seen it released except for when the project was leaked on Techcrunch. Needless to say this was a frustrating experience for me. The experience of working on this app was a large contribution to the reasons why I left Facebook, though that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a difficult decision.

So yes, what you saw in our leak was the real deal. That was the app Facebook intended to release — but still hasn’t. The original plan was to launch it around May, Verkoeyen notes. Then that was push until JuneJuly, as the New York Times’ Nick Bilton reported back then. Then there were whispers of f8 last week — but that obviously didn’t happen either.

So what’s going on?

Here’s the other key blub:

You probably saw the app when it was infamously leaked via Techcrunch. It was feature-complete by then and for reasons I won’t go into details on the app was repeatedly delayed throughout the summer.

For the past couple of months, we’ve been hearing something that would seem to line up with Verkoeyen’s statement. Specifically, the “details” he won’t go into are related to the relationship between Facebook and Apple, we hear.

The two sides have been at odds ever since the launch of Apple’s Ping music social network last year. Facebook was originally supposed to be a key part of that launch, then full integration was pulled at the last minute. The same is true with iOS. Apple and Facebook had been working together to bring a deep integration of the social network into iOS 5, then it was killed — Apple went with Twitter instead. With all of these things, the reason for the split were said to be over “terms” that Apple didn’t like.

But Apple has always wanted Facebook to release an iPad app. The Facebook iPhone app is the most downloaded app of all time. And there are countless third-party Facebook iPad apps that are amongst the top downloads all time, even though most aren’t very good. At first, Facebook wasn’t going to focus on the iPad. Then they decided to, but they also realized the app could be used as leverage in their dealings with Apple. That’s what we believe has been going on over the past several months.

The story goes even deeper when you consider Project Spartan. (And I should note, there’s some confusion within Facebook about that name. Some say they don’t use it, but the third-party developers involved may. Either way, I’m talking about the giant HTML5 platform project that Facebook is working on.) At first, the project was meant to target iOS specifically, to make sure that Facebook apps re-written in HTML5 could work on the mobile Safari browser. One key to this is Credits — if Facebook can do HTML5 and not native apps, they can get around Apple’s terms for in-app purchase cuts.

The bigger key is simply control. Apple controls a mobile platform, Facebook does not. They’ll never admit this — and they go out of their way to deny it without denying it — but Facebook does not want to be at the mercy of another company, whether it’s Apple or Google, etc. With that in mind, in recent weeks, the scope of the HTML5 project has expanded to include Android and even the desktop.

And now there are whispers of something else going on.

There isn’t much to go on here just yet, but we’ve been hearing that Facebook and Apple may now be working together on the HTML5 project. Maybe it’s because Apple hates Google that much, or maybe it’s because they realize that HTML5 apps are still no real threat to the native app movement. Or maybe they want Facebook’s wildly popular social games to run inside of Facebook’s apps — including the iPad app. If this is indeed the case, negotiations may still be underway. That could be why we haven’t seen either Spartan or the iPad app yet, even though both are done.

Either way, Verkoeyen himself is done. He’s now at Google, working happily on their mobile team.

Update: I spoke with Verkoeyen who wanted to clarify a few things. First and foremost, while the app was feature-complete in May, it was not totally done, he says. While he hasn’t been working on it for a some time, others have been, to get it ready. The version that leaked was one iteration, but not the final product, he says.

He also wanted to reiterate that his going to Google was not a reflection on Facebook. He says he loved the time he spent there, but that he was ready for something new. As for the long hours he worked on the app, “I genuinely enjoyed the time I spent working on that. In no way was I trying to lash out at Facebook,” he says.

He declined to comment on the Facebook/Apple relationship and how that plays into all of this.

Update 2: Ben Parr of Mashable is reporting that the iPad app will launch at Apple’s upcoming iPhone 5 event. Robert Scoble reported on this last week as well.