Facebook Mobile Chief Vague on Relationship With Apple

Erick Tseng predicts Facebook will soon be 'a mobile company'

Erick Tseng, head of mobile products at Facebook, answered questions at the Mobilize conference in San Francisco on Tuesday—but when Apple came up, he became noncommittal.

First, Tseng was asked about Twitter's integration with the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS 5. Tseng praised iOS 5 as a "great platform," but he said he "can't speak" about why it doesn't offer similar integration with Facebook. 

"I think it would be a great combination," Tseng said. "I hope to see it soon."

He took a similar tone when asked about Facebook's iPad app. The app will reportedly launch next week at Apple's iPhone 5 event—it appears to have been repeatedly delayed. Tseng called the iPad a "fantastic device," but he said he had "nothing to announce" about the app.

Tseng was less tight-lipped when he got going on the subject of Facebook's mobile growth. As announced last week at Facebook's F8 developer conference, Facebook now has 800 million active users, and 350 million of them are on mobile. Tseng said that if you just "do the math," it becomes clear that the majority of Facebook's user base will be mobile in the next year or two. That's particularly true because in many of the countries where Facebook is currently making inroads (in Southeast Asia and Africa), many people access the Internet through their phones, not their computers.

"We're going to become a mobile company," Tseng said.

And even though there weren't many mobile announcements at F8, Tseng said mobile is a big part of Facebook's strategy. The new features demonstrated last week, such as media-sharing capabilities and a new profile section called the Timeline, will be coming to mobile devices at "around the same time" as their launch on Facebook.com, he said.

One of the more curious aspects of Tuesday's conference was the way executives from both Facebook and Twitter backed away from being categorized as social networks. Earlier in the day, Twitter's vice president of engineering Michael Abbott echoed the phrasing of Twitter's corporate website, saying the service is an "information network," not a social network. Tseng also said Facebook "rarely" considers itself a social network, and instead sees itself as a platform.

"When I say platform, I truly mean platform," Tseng said, later elaborating, "We have one principle on the mobile team: Every phone should be social."