Mobile development startup Cabana is launching a new product today called Fan Page Mobilizer aimed at small businesses who want to bring their Facebook presence to smartphones.
There have been a lot of startups promising easy-to-use mobile app-building tools, to the point where my eyes can glaze over when I hear about a new one. However, Cabana has attracted the backing of impressive investors, including First Round Capital, Lerer Ventures, SVAngel, Gary Vaynerchuk, Shervin Pishevar, Kevin Rose, Chris Sacca, Dave Morin, Philip Kaplan, Tyler Crowley, Mark Silva, Jack Andrys, Bill Warner, and Alex Elenski. And co-founder Reeve Thompson says it’s aiming at a unique audience that falls between the professional developers served by a company like Appcelerator and the more casual customers targeted by AppMakr and Mobile Roadie — Thompson describes his customer base as “serious hobbyists.”
With the Fan Page Mobilizer, however, he says he can start to reach a less technical audience, namely small businesses who would never put any serious resource into mobile development. Thompson says he realized that for many of these businesses, their Facebook Page is their website. Yet Pages are relatively hidden away in Facebook’s mobile apps (I don’t think I’ve ever visited a Page on the Facebook iPhone app). So Fan Page Mobilizer can give them a real presence on smartphones, and one that’s better-looking than most Facebook Pages to boot.
Thompson walked me through the app creation process earlier this week, and it’s pretty fast — you just point Fan Page Mobilizer at the Page you want to convert, customize a few options, and then it gives you a link to a new mobile website. The default home screen is a gallery of images from your Page, and it includes most of the other features of a Page, like events listings and wall posts.
The converted product is a mobile website, not a native app, but Thompson says that for the normal consumer it shouldn’t make a huge difference — they can still click an “install” button to have the site bookmarked on their home screen, and Cabana tries to store a lot of content locally so that it’s fast and responsive like a native app. At the same time, Thompson argues that the mobile Web approach makes more sense for a small business (which is probably not going to have a top 10 app) than going through the Apple App Store: “We also believe Apple does not want everyone with a Facebook Fan Page releasing an app in the App Store.”
One of the quirks of the product is that you don’t have to be the administrator of a Facebook Page in order to convert it into a mobile site. Thompson says the permissions system necessary to confirm that someone is an administrator would have turned off a lot of potential customers, and he doesn’t think it should be a problem, since these sites are essentially just a new view on already-public content. So yes, if you’re a Lady Gaga fan who really wants to turn her fan page into a mobile site, you can do that.
Fan Page Mobilizer currently creates iPhone-compatible websites, but Thompson plans to add Android functionality soon (in that case the apps will be native, because they don’t have to go through the Android Marketplace). Thompson also plans to release templates targeted a specific industries, say menu pages for restaurants.
Pricing starts at $5, and it’s actually free if you “like” Fan Page Mobilizer’s own fan page.