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Saturday, June 18, 2011, 06:35 pm PT (09:35 pm ET)

Rumor: Apple helping Facebook's 'secret' HTML5 project

A new report claims Apple knows about and is lending support to Facebook's "Project Spartan" HTML5 web app platform, even as Facebook's PR team has attempted to downplay rumors of the project.

On Wednesday, MG Siegler of TechCrunch claimed that Facebook was coordinating an HTML5 web app platform to "break the stranglehold" that Apple has on mobile app distribution. According to the report, Facebook's goal was to get people to use its own network as the distribution model for games and other apps, "not the App Store (or any other distribution hub)."

Also earlier this week, rumors emerged that a native iPad app for Facebook is nearly finished and should arrive in weeks, more than a year after the release of the original iPad.

In a follow-up report, Siegler hinted that Facebook may have held the iPad app back as leverage with Apple.

"Apple has wanted this app since the initial iPad launch just over a year ago," the report read. "At first, Facebook made it sound as if they weren’t going to do one at all. But they have been working on it for months. And there’s no reason it should have taken that long, unless they were holding it back as some sort of leverage over Apple."

One source compared Apple's relationship with Facebook to that of "an abusive spouse," noting that Facebook has "pissed off" Apple in the past and suffered repercussions as a result. According to the report, Facebook is scared of Apple and has to "tread lightly."

Siegler says Apple knows about Project Spartan and is believed to "even be lending some minor support" to the project. People familiar with the matter have indicated that Apple "is not afraid of [the project] at all." Siegler went on to suggest that, having seen some of the early Spartan apps, the likelihood that users would choose them over a native iPhone app is "laughable."

However, the report speculates that Apple doesn't yet know the full scope of the project, specifically the Facebook Credits monetization aspect. "I believe the main reason Facebook is pissed off about our Spartan story is this part in particular," Siegler wrote. "Apple may not view Spartan as a threat at all right now — and in fact, it sort of helps them because it is moving popular games, like the ones by Zynga, off of Flash and onto HTML5 — but down the road, that is absolutely what Facebook intends it to be."

Siegler also took issue with an alleged spin campaign run by Facebook's public relations team in response to his original story. Facebook PR reportedly sent messages to other journalists pitching stories meant to serve as damage control. “You guys should remind people that there’s not much new in tonight’s TC story,” one email read, while another suggested that the story was "wrongly positioning [Facebook] against other companies."