Facebook wants to be prepared should it ever enter a war with Google. In a report this morning, The Information says that Facebook has worked on a number of contingency plans that will allow it to continue operating on Android in the event that Google cuts it off from the Play Store, and therefore from key services like push notifications, app updates, and in-app payments. Facebook is said to be preparing its own services to handle these functions. It's also reported to have tested ways of getting people to download its Android app outside of the Play Store. Facebook declined to comment.
Facebook apparently doesn't think it'll have to use any of this
Though it may sound like paranoia on Facebook's part, its presence on Android could be hugely limited by Google's actions. According to the report, Facebook doesn't actually expect that to happen "anytime soon." But the two companies have apparently gotten into spats over some of Facebook's experiments, like automatically installing new Facebook-made apps for users, which reportedly prompted threats of a cut off from Google. On the other hand, Facebook could eventually decide to withdraw from the Play Store on its own: it may be concerned that Google will eventually charge it for services like notifications, as The Information pointed out last month. Though that's not a current practice, it isn't uncommon for a company like Google to charge developers a small fee for every use of a service like maps; for Facebook, with its billion users, that could get costly.
If Facebook were no longer in the Play Store, its biggest hurdle would be getting its users to download a new version of the app. The Information reports that Facebook ran a test in "a certain small country for a week or so" where it required that people follow a link to download it outside of the store; the result was that "people did it; it wasn’t disastrous," which doesn't sound like a soaring success. The Information also points out that Facebook could use the Oculus VR app store that's installed on some Samsung phones to install and update its app.
The alternative would be to work directly with phone manufacturers to have Facebook's app come preinstalled. Building off of that, a separate report in The Information says that Facebook is considering offering the services it's working on — like notifications and payments — to apps on Android phones that don't include the Play Store and Google's related services; phones that are typically sold in China, Russia, and other markets where Google is less welcome. It's "not clear" whether Facebook will move forward with this possibility; it's also unlikely, the report says, that Facebook would also launch its own app store for these devices.
Facebook has on many occasions tried to embed itself deeper into Android, including making replacement apps for core Android functions and even making its own Android phone and launcher. None of those experiments have been successful. That's a good reason why Facebook may not want to pull the trigger on any of these experiments, unless it finds itself in a position where it has to. Were these to succeed, Facebook would have much more control over its Android app and the Android experience itself, which is something the company would love. But, as Facebook's past experiments have shown, its success is by no means a sure thing.