Facebook has launched an app store, similar to that for the Apple iPhone, in a bid to turn the social network into a key entertainment platform online.

The network announced its "App Centre" in a blogpost late on Thursday, confirming its first major move into a booming market of gaming, lifestyle and productivity applications.

The app store will be available only to US users from Friday, opening to each of Facebook's 901 million users in the coming weeks. It will feature 600 apps, including the popular Draw Something and Pinterest, and new games such as Jetpack Joyride and Ghosts of Mistwood.

"The App Centre gives you personalised recommendations, and lets you browse the apps your friends use," said Facebook's Matt Wyndowe in the blogpost.

"It only lists high-quality apps, based on feedback from people who use the app."

The move is designed to keep Facebook users on the social network for longer, giving them less reason to leave the site for a rival platform.

However, the focus on mobile apps is likely to attract criticism from those who see them as harmful to the future of the open web. Facebook has already faced criticism from internet rivals such as Google for its so-called "walled garden" approach to what can and cannot be released on its platform.

The app store will be available on Facebook's iOS and Android apps, as well as on the main website. Users can send an app on the website to be downloaded onto their mobile device.

Apps have quickly become a part of daily life for smartphone owners across the globe. Ushered in by Apple's iPhone and, later, by Google's Android and other mobile operating systems, an estimated 31bn apps were downloaded to mobile devices last year, according to industry analyst Juniper Research.

Although most apps are free to download, the still-nascent medium is delivering significant revenues for hugely popular games such as Angry Birds. Juniper Research predicts that by 2016 mobile apps will generate $52bn of revenues – 75% from smartphones and 25% from tablets.

© Guardian News and Media 2012

[Facebook on smartphone image via AFP]