Famo.us Reveals More Details About Its HTML5 Turbo-Charger

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Last month as part of our TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield Coverage, we wrote about Famo.us, the company behind a forthcoming HTML5 framework that its developers claim will make it easier to build HTML5 apps that perform as well as native apps. Now the company is revealing more information about how it works and what it can be used for.

“At first the question was “Can you make HTML5 performant?’ But now the question is becoming ‘How hard is it to make HTML5 performant?'” says co-founder Steve Newcomb. “Famo.us makes it very easy.”

Newcomb is best known as the co-founder of Powerset, a search engine company that was acquired by Microsoft in 2008 (Powerset also happened to develop the open source NoSQL database Hbase).

Newcomb co-founded Famo.us last year with Mark Lu and raised $1.1 million from various investors, including the CrunchFund (which TechCrunch owners AOL has invested in). The original plan was to make a consumer identity application that he describes as “sort of Pinterest meets About.me.” It had heavy UI requirements and needed to work in the browser, on smartphones, on game consoles — everywhere. So the Famo.us team went with HTML5.

“We hit just about every performance issue you can imagine,” Newcomb says.

Eventually Lu solved solved their problems by routing around certain performance bottlenecks in the browser. Then the team realized that the framework they built was actually more important than the product they’d originally set out to build. So they pivoted.

Typically an HTML5/CSS3/JavaScript app will let the browser render CSS transitions before passing a series of calculations on to the graphical processing unit (GPU). What the Famo.us team realized is that it’s actually several times faster to render those transitions in JavaScript and pass the calculations directly to the GPU through a CSS tag.

Different devices have different ways of accessing the GPU. When using the native wrapper for iOS, Famo.us will use OpenGL to target the GPU. On an X-Box it will use DirectX. The Famo.us framework handles all the device targeting. There’s no plugin necessary — just a JavaScript library. It doesn’t use anything that would turn the app into an embedded object, like Canvas or WebGL.

Although the company has highlighted the framework’s ability to render 3D, there’s no reason it can’t be used for 2D as well — that was the original purpose. In fact, Newcomb says that Famo.us probably wouldn’t be good for programming an immersive 3D came like like World of Warcraft, but it would be great for building a social networking app.

He also explains that Famo.us is just a rendering engine — it doesn’t replace other frameworks like Backbone and Meteor. In fact, it will work just fine with them.

The full release of the framework on Github is still a few months away, but he says there are thousands of developers already testing the framework.

As for the business model, the company is still doing market research and exploring opportunities.