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Is Facebook's Project Spartan going after Apple's app lock?

Facebook was apparently spurned by Apple in favor of Twitter for close integration in iOS 5, but the social networking giant is now moving ahead with plans to bypass the App Store with an upcoming HTML5 web app aimed at Mobile Safari -- Project Spartan.

This not-so-secret project has been making the rounds on Twitter, and is apparently aimed at breaking Apple's lock on app distribution through the App Store. Apple can't control what sites are visited by iOS users, so Facebook is looking at Project Spartan as a way to grab a piece of the app pie from Cupertino. Facebook is reportedly working with 80 outside developers, including Zynga (Farmville, Hanging With Friends) and the Huffington Post (owned by our parent company, AOL), on a variety of apps.

TechCrunch (also an AOL property) blogger MG Siegler had a hands-on look at Project Spartan, and described how app purchasing would work: "Imagine loading up the mobile web version of Facebook and finding a drop-down for a new type of app. Clicking on one of the apps loads it (from whatever server it's on depending on the app-maker), and immediately a Facebook wrapper is brought in to surround the app. This wrapper will give the app some basic Facebook functionality, as well as the ability to use key Facebook elements - like Credits."

Credits is Facebook's in-house payment system, akin to the payment system Apple uses for app, music and e-book purchases. By making the purchase of HTML5 games, news readers and other apps available through a separate purchasing mechanism, Facebook hopes to profit from the almost 100 million mobile users who are part of the Facebook family.

Siegler notes that while Project Spartan is meant to attack Apple on one front, it also has the opportunity to help Apple in another way. By demonstrating the ability of developers to create compelling content in HTML5, Facebook hopes to pry those devs from Adobe's Flash technology, which is something that Apple would dearly love to see.

Project Spartan is expected to roll out for Mobile Safari users in the next few weeks, and it should be interesting to see how Apple responds to this infringement on its turf.