Tempting f8

We’re now less than two weeks away from Facebook’s f8 conference. While it’s later than usual this year, Facebook uses the event to lay out their vision for the upcoming year and beyond. Typically, the event is big for developers, but this year may feature a few user-facing surprises as well. Here’s what we’ve heard so far.

As has been widely reported, Facebook’s music service is expected to be unveiled. Facebook is partnering with several prominent players in the streaming music space. Spotify, MOG, Rdio, etc — but again, don’t be surprised if Turntable.fm and maybe even Amazon are involved as well. The idea for the initial version of the product is all based around listening, but the roadmap is said to be larger.

One other key thing that could be a part of this is Music for Credits. Inside Facebook talked about this a few months ago when detailing what they knew at the time about the Music Dashboard. It’s not believe that anything Facebook does in music will be an “iTunes killer”, but this is the closest possibility.

The latest talk is that the elusive iPad app should make its debut at the event as well. It has been ready for some time (as indicated by its inclusion in the iPhone/iPod touch builds of the app) but Facebook has been sitting on it. The talk here is that this may be for political reasons with Apple more than anything else.

In the latest build (3.5) of Facebook’s iOS app, they removed the iPad version. And there were a few other irregularities, such as the continued inclusion of Places, despite Facebook stating they were getting rid of Places. I suspect that f8 could see a 4.0 release of the app that includes both the iPhone and iPad versions largely re-worked.

There are also some whispers out there that Facebook could launch their stand-alone Photos app at f8. We haven’t been able to confirm this, but we know the app is real because well, we’ve seen it (though that was an early build). Work continues on this app, including increased emphasis on filters, following Instagram’s rise to fame.

Speaking of photos, we’ve heard that Blue, the Color pivot, will also be a part of f8. The new app, which will be available for both iOS and Android, ties in deeply with Facebook’s own Photos service. When you like a photo in Blue, you like it in Facebook. When you comment on a photo on Facebook, it transfers over to that photo in Blue. The app has a few other tricks up its sleeve as well, we’ve heard.

Deep integration with mobile apps will be a big theme of the conference itself, we’re hearing. Many developers have been briefed, but under NDA. Still, the little we’ve heard says that Facebook is trying to work with third party mobile apps to make them less like second-class citizens in the ecosystem and more like integral parts.

Facebook’s thought process here is believed to be that since they don’t control a mobile OS themselves (their attempts to fork Android to make their own version haven’t gone as well as it has for Amazon, for example) they need better hooks to get outside mobile app data into Facebook on both iOS and Android. Part of this is believed to be a mobile version of the Like Button for each platform.

But the bigger picture remains Project Spartan. No, it’s not going to be called that when it’s launched at f8, but it is ready to go. And the latest we’ve heard is that the scope has expanded a bit. While at first, developers were asked to focus on mobile Safari, they’re now focused on desktop, iOS (including iPad), and Android.

Facebook continues their moves to go all-in on HTML5 (well, aside from the mobile apps which they likely view as a necessary evil for now — and still use a lot of HTML5). And obviously, games remain a big part of this. One other thing we’ve heard is that developers were asked to make sure their Spartan apps work in UIWebView — likely because Facebook wants them to work within the Facebook iPad app itself as well. That may also be related to why the app has been delayed.

Mobile Credits should be a part of Spartan as well (at least they were in the version we saw). We’ll see how Apple reacts to this if it’s a part of the apps — again, perhaps this is related to the iPad app delay. Maybe Facebook will keep it in the browser version only.

Meanwhile, we’ve heard that while the secretive BoltJS project is important to Facebook in mobile, it is unrelated to Project Spartan right now. One reason is that six weeks ago, Spartan expanded beyond mobile Safari, but BoltJS is still tied to it. Facebook may or may not talk about BoltJS at f8.