Facebook VP says the company is finally focused on mobile

The social network turns its attention from desktop to mobile. At a confab in Silicon Valley, VP Vaughan Smith reassures developers and talks about what Facebook has done to make the switch.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
3 min read
Vaughan Smith, Facebook's VP of mobile partnerships and corporate development, speaks at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in San Jose, Calif. Screenshot by Donna Tam/CNET

As recently as the end of last year, 80 percent of the products pitched by Facebook's various product teams were focused on how people use the social network on desktops. But not anymore, according to Facebook VP Vaughan Smith.

Smith, the vice president of mobile partnerships and corporate development at Facebook, said at a mobile industry conference today that the company knows it needs to be mobile first from here on out. That's why it's trained all its engineers to be mobile developers, ramped up its update cycle for its Android and iOS apps, and shaken up its product development process.

"Since the start of this year, if you turned up at a product review and you showed anything other than mobile at the start and the bulk of the presentation, you'd be asked to go back and do it again," Smith said at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in San Jose, Calif. "So we've pivoted our thinking to be, 'how can we create the right mobile experience first and the desktop can catch up later.'"

As it faces increasing pressure to be a profitable company, Facebook knows, along with everyone hounding it, that mobile is where the money is. That's why it bought the popular mobile photo-sharing site Instagram for $1 billion and why it recently decided to let third-party developers buy mobile ads in users' News Feeds, without the need for a user's Facebook friend to have Liked the app being advertising.

The company has found that when its users switch to mobile, they use the social network 20 percent more, Smith added. A reported 600 million people used Facebook mobile products in September 2012, the company recently shared.

As part of its mission to be a mobile-first company, Facebook continues its investment in HTML 5, the programming language that powers its mobile site, Smith said. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had previously said Facebook made a mistake by putting all its efforts into HTML 5. But in what was partly an effort to reassure developers, Smith said Zuckerberg's comment was describing Facebook's need to also pay attention to its Android and Facebook apps. It was not about abandoning HTML 5 altogether, something other Facebook executives have said as well.

Facebook attracts more mobile users to its HTML 5 mobile site than to its Android and iOS apps combined, Smith said. Of course, users weren't very happy with those apps previously,something the Facebook teams are working on changing. But HTML 5 is also part of the company's strategy to get into emerging markets.

With the price of smartphones going down in many markets, the tech world has seen an explosion of mobile devices and users in developing areas. Smith said wireless operators are investing billions of dollars in creating data networks all over the world, and he said one of the driving factors of why people want to be connected is to get on Facebook. With the exception of China, Facebook is the dominant social network in emerging markets, he said.

According to a recently released eMarketer report, Facebook is the preferred network of people in Africa and the Middle East, two emerging markets that have the highest percentage of Internet users active on social networks. eMarketer said this is partly due to mobile carriers that allow users to access a low-bandwidth version of Facebook on 2G phones.