Strobe Gets $2.5 Million To Make The Mobile Web Dance With Apple-Like JavaScript And HTML5 Moves

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In June of 2008, we wrote about SproutCore, and open source framework that was demoed that year at the WWDC event put on by Apple. The reason they were demoing it was because it was going to be the technology powering the soon-to-be-released MobileMe experience on the web. Apple had actually been using the framework with .Mac before that as well. And for good reason: the guy who created it, Charles Jolley, worked for them. Now Jolley is trying to open up that work to the rest of the web with his startup Strobe. And they’ve just gotten some big backing from O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and Hummer Winblad to make it happen.

So what exactly is Strobe? GigaOm’s Om Malik had a nice interview with Jolley back in July after he left Apple to talk about the project. Essentially, Strobe is a company built to help developers around the web code mobile applications with the SproutCore framework, which again, Jolley created. The idea is to use JavaScript and HTML5 to create touch-based apps which run as if they’re built using native code. The best known examples to date are some of the MobileMe apps and iWork.com, which Jolley helped drive the development of at Apple.

After founding Strobe, Jolley quickly teamed up with two Ruby on Rails core team members, Yehuda Katz (also a jQuery core team member) and Carl Lerche to get the project rolling. The company currently has nine people and will expand to twelve by the end of January, Jolley says.

He notes that while he put a small amount of money into the company at its inception, he expected to work on Strobe for six months before looking to raise a proper round of funding. But there was so much interest, primarily from media companies, that just four months in they’ve closed this $2.5 million Series A round led by O’Reilly AlphaTech and Hummer Winblad. O’Reilly AlphaTech’s Bryce Roberts shared his thoughts on Sprout this morning on his personal blog. “We’re entering an new world of mobile applications, sensors, form factors and connectivity unlike any we’ve seen before. I believe it is a market too big for any one company, one device or one app store to control,” he writes.

Of Apple, Jolley has this to say:

Apple supports two modes of distributing apps.  You can use the app store, or you can use the Safari browser.  Both modes support using HTML5 technologies.  There are hundreds of apps in the app store already doing this.

Our platform will support this same model.  It will make it much easier to create these apps using HTML5 that can be distributed through the app store or the browser.

So the idea is to create HTML5 apps wrapped in native code to get them to run on many of the popular devices now. That’s enticing to a lot of developers, and particularly among media companies, because it means they can code the majority of their apps once with a native app-like framework then spread them to the various popular app stores quickly.

Sprout’s biggest competitor in this space right now is clearly Sencha, which raised a huge $14 million round from Sequoia over the summer. “We’re watching them very closely obviously,” Jolley says. “Right now, we are mostly focused on building the best platform we can.  We raised the right amount of money for what we need and have more customers than we can handle so we are happy.  This market is growing really fast; I think there will be a lot of room for us to differentiate over time,” he continues.

Right now, the plan is to use the new funds to hire more developers and to push towards the release of major new features for the platform in Q1 2011. They’re currently working with a number of big media companies as pilot customers, Jolley says.

Jolley is particular enthused about one device: the iPad. “iPad is important because it is a catalyst that will make mobile web apps really explode.  It is really an awesome web device.  In fact, that’s the primary thing people use it for.  Because of that, mobile web technology is on developers radar like never before.  There are a lot of devs now thinking about building HTML5 apps for iPhone and Android phones because they also have to target the iPad,” he says.

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