Famo.us Finally Rolls Into (Very) Private Beta, Hires A Founder Of Facebook’s Dev Platform As VP Of Engineering

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Back at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012, Famo.us announced a Javascript framework for building super complex yet still super-smooth HTML5 apps. They promised to let developers build rich, 3D, Iron-Man-esque interfaces running in the browser at 40 frames per second, no plug-ins required.

Almost exactly a year later, Famo.us is finally ready to let in a few of the 57,000 developers that signed up for beta access. Emphasis on “few”.

In the coming weeks, the company says they’ll be selecting around 40 developers (less than a tenth of one percent of their overall signups) from their beta pool to take up residence in their San Francisco office, helping Famo.us to stress test their framework before its wider release. Those 40 developers will get full, unobfuscated access to Famo.us’ source code, technical support from the folks who built the framework itself, and a bit of office space to boot.

As we’ve covered in depth before, Famo.us pulls off quite a bit of platform-by-platform trickery to allow web apps to utilize a device’s GPU (graphical processing unit) in a way that web apps generally can’t.

During our chat, Famo.us showed me examples of their framework being used in a way I’d never seen it used for before: super complex 2D web apps running at buttery speeds. Before today, nearly everything I’d seen come out of Famo.us were crazy, theoretical, 3D interfaces — like the oh-so-Minority-Report periodic table demo that sits on their homepage.

weather layers Remember Yahoo’s super-gorgeous new Weather app? For one of their internal demos, Famo.us built a pixel-for-pixel replica of that app… in HTML5. They’d managed to mimic everything from the popout menus, to the parallax scrolling, to the beautiful background blurring effects, and it all ran so smoothly that I never would’ve guessed it wasn’t running natively on the device. Unfortunately, they denied my (dozen or so) requests to get it on video, worried that Yahoo’s legal team might bring down the hammer. I hope they eventually get to release it, if only so I can properly tear apart the source. The lil’ mockup over to the right was the most I could get out of them.

Famo.us also mentioned that they now plan to completely open source their framework. They’d previously said they were “hopeful” that they could open it up, but weren’t ready to commit to opening up everything. Founder Steve Newcomb now says that they expect to be able to release the full, unobfuscated source for both the framework itself and all of the pre-built “widgets” they provide (think infinite scroll views, menu styles, or pull-to-refresh functionality) for use in Famo.us apps.

While the company has been fairly quiet over the past few months, it doesn’t seem they’ve been resting on their laurels. In April, they announced that they’d integrated a full physics engine into the framework, allowing elements of a user interface to simulate things like mass, gravity, and drag. At the same time, they promised that the framework would be completely free to developers upon release, thanks to a few “huge hardware vendors” taking interest.

Speaking of huge hardware vendors, the company confirmed to me something that I’d previously heard but had been unable to positively verify: Samsung invested in Famo.us earlier this year when the company raised a Series A of $4M lead by Javelin Venture Partners. They declined to say just how much Samsung threw into the mix, but did say that the company was a “minority investor”.

Also of note: Famo.us recently hired Dave Fetterman, one of Facebook’s early engineers and one of the founding engineers on Facebook’s development platform, as their own VP of Engineering. Fetterman left Facebook at the end of last year, shortly after the company decided to shift their focus away from HTML5 and towards native apps. After 4 months as an advisor to the company, Famo.us convinced him to hop on board full time.

Steve Newcomb also mentioned on more than one occasion that he sees the company becoming the “Unity3D for Apps” (as opposed to games) moving forward. When I pressed for more information on that analogy, he mentioned that they’re working on a Unity-esque development environment for Famo.us apps, but didn’t seem to have more details to share right now.

So, how will Famo.us make money? Their plan is two fold: on one side, they’ll build (and help build) interfaces for some of the aforementioned “huge hardware vendors”. On the other, they’ll provide enterprise add-on services that are directly compatible with the features of their framework. If a big company uses one of Famo.us’ pre-built infinite scroll-views, for example, Famo.us might upsell them on a drop-in solution for monitoring and A/B testing.

[Disclosure: CrunchFund, the venture firm founded by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, was an early investor in Famo.us. While no one at CrunchFund has ever so much as mentioned Famo.us to me, I like to be transparent on these things when I notice them]

Famo.us’ Initial Demo Of A 3D Periodic table Whizzing Around In The Browser: