First look: Famo.us remakes mobile app development

The Famo.us mobile Web framework runs faster than standard HTML and takes less development time than native code -- once you get up to speed

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I like to see sites and apps that serve layouts and graphics appropriate to the detected devices. For example, an iPad held in landscape mode might show three columns, whereas an iPhone held in portrait mode might show one column, with the other columns available as alternate tabs or via a swipe gesture. Similarly, differently sized graphics fit differently sized devices. At the least, the app should be able to automatically apply size transforms to master graphics to match the current device resolution.

Famo.us is just beginning to integrate with MVC frameworks and other JavaScript frameworks. For example, work is underway to build TodoMVC apps by combining Famo.us with AngularJS and Backbone and to integrate Famo.us with Meteor. Thomas Street and Famo.us have announced an integration between AngularJS and Famo.us to be released in May. In addition, discussions are going on between Famo.us and the jQuery Foundation.

People are already wrapping Famo.us mobile Web apps in PhoneGap and Apache Cordova to make hybrid apps. Famo.us has plans to introduce its own fork of Apache Cordova, which will use the latest Chrome engine instead of the older, slower, native WebView installed on Android phones. The cloud-based builders for the resulting Famo.us hybrid apps might well require a subscription from developers, similar to what Adobe does with PhoneGap Build.

Should you be Famo.us?
One of the outside groups working at Famo.us when I was there was finishing up an iPhone app called Plugg (Figure 3), which is a social music-streaming app. According to Sander Frans, CEO and founder, the developers of Plugg tried to implement the UI in HTML5 but could never get the pizzazz the designer wanted. Writing in pure native iOS code would have taken at least six months, and it would have left them needing to start over for Android. Implementing Plugg mostly in Famo.us took a couple of months, and it won't take too long to port to Android because only the native code will need to be rewritten.

The Plugg developers were working in parallel with the Famo.us developers prior to the Famo.us launch, so they had to periodically revise their app as the framework changed. That's a hardship typical of developing with an unlaunched framework, but you could argue that the time needed to develop an app like Plugg would be shorter now that Famo.us is on an actual release cycle.

Should you put in the effort to learn this new way of writing mobile apps? Unless you're a serious JavaScript developer, or you have a background in game development, learning Famo.us may not come easily. But if you're fed up with the time it takes to develop native apps, and you can't live with the speed and UI limits of mobile Web apps, then yes -- Famo.us is for you. There's a lot of hype around this new framework, and 90 percent of it is deserved. 

Famo.us 0.1.2 at a glance

 
Pros
  • High-performance JavaScript framework for mobile Web and hybrid mobile apps
  • Easier for developers to use than native code
  • Better performance than standard mobile websites with nested HTML DOM structures
  • More flexible for UI development than HTML5
  • Faster time-to-market than native code
  • Company plans to make the product much easier to learn and use, even for designers who don't know JavaScript
Cons
  • Currently only fully supports Android and iOS browsers
  • Currently requires some serious JavaScript experience and/or a game-development background to learn
  • Currently in a controlled beta period with a large backlog for admitting new testers
  • Currently lacks an easy way to build one app for multiple device form factors or an equivalent of responsive HTML flow
PlatformsAndroid and iOS browsers
CostFree and open source under the Mozilla Public License 2.0; future paid services are planned

This article, "First look: Famo.us remakes mobile app development," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in JavaScript and application development at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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