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Facebook going Spartan to take on Apple?

The social network could unveil an HTML5-based, Safari-centric platform in the coming weeks that would mark a major challenge to Apple's App Store, according to TechCrunch.

Facebook, data

Facebook is working on a new mobile platform designed to take on Apple's App Store, TechCrunch is reporting.

Dubbed Project Spartan, the project will work only on mobile Safari, the social-media blog claims, citing anonymous sources. The new platform, aimed at iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad, will reportedly be HTML5-based, making it compatible with mobile Safari. TechCrunch says that people "familiar with the project" believe Facebook wants to "use Apple's own devices against them to break the stranglehold they have on mobile app distribution."

TechCrunch's report about Project Spartan follows another report from the blog, saying that Facebook is working on a photo-sharing application for the iPhone. That service, TechCrunch claims, will be a standalone app that relies upon the Facebook social graph, but is not integrated into the social network.

Facebook declined to comment on the notion of the photo-sharing app, and did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the purported Project Spartan.

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• Facebook prepping photo-sharing iPhone app?

According to TechCrunch, "80 or so" third-party developers, including FarmVille maker Zynga, are currently collaborating with Facebook on Project Spartan. When the service launches, the blog claims, users will be able to open Facebook in mobile Safari and choose an application to run from a list. The app then loads, delivering its unique functionality to the user, while still offering "some basic Facebook functionality."

The ultimate goal, TechCrunch says, is for Facebook to wrest the upper hand in apps from Apple.

However, the social network will have some work cut out for it. At the Worldwide Developers Conference last week, Apple revealed that there are now 425,000 applications available in the company's App Store, and a total of 14 billion apps have been downloaded from that marketplace since its launch in 2008. So far, Apple has paid $2.5 billion to app developers.

If Facebook does decide to launch an App Store competitor for iOS-based devices, it would be the latest chapter in a brewing battle between the giant social network and Apple. The trouble started last year when Facebook and Apple couldn't come to terms over the social network's integration in Apple's own music social network, Ping. At the time, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that Facebook was seeking "onerous terms" in their would-be partnership.

More recently, Twitter, not Facebook, has been deeply integrated into iOS 5, allowing users to tweet from several apps, share photos, and sync contacts.

Though details on Project Spartan are apparently slim at this point, TechCrunch believes the offering could be made available at some point in the coming weeks.