Feb 15 2014, 12:21pm CST | by Forbes
UX design has been getting pretty slick in the world of iOS. Last week, Facebook released Paper (subtitled “Stories from Facebook”), perhaps the best newsfeed app I have seen. This native iOS app is built using a toolkit called Origami that the Facebook design team has developed on top of Apple’s Quartz Composer for OSX and iOS. But even with the usability improvements introduced by Origami, Quartz Composer is still only a prototyping tool for iOS. You still need to know to write native iOS code (in this case UIKit) to implement the actual app.
Christain Billings of Tapity calls Quartz Composer the “key to iOS 7 design,” since it enables designers to prototype sophisticated interactions using iOS 7’s built-in physics engine. And indeed a quick look at the gallery of beautiful UX samples at Capptivate reveals how look and feel have exploded in the flatlands of iOS 7.
Surely the high-performance animations in this new crop of apps with their multiple parallax effects and highly-rendered transitions are just the kind of thing you can only make as native app and preferably an iOS app, right?
…and the Famo.us version
But, because this was all made using web tech it can run in any decently modern mobile web browser and can be packaged not only for iOS, but for Android and Kindle just as easily. Facebook, and most other cutting-edge mobile app makers, give iOS priority and then go on to figure out how to recode it in Java for Android. With Famo.us, that work is already done.
And, for the moment, Android even has a performance edge in Famo.us apps because Safari for iOS does not yet support WebGL which allows the potential rendering of millions of vertices as opposed to the hundreds of surfaces available in the HTML5 DOM. Apple is likely to include WebGL support in the next major release of Safari for iOS and I suspect it could be sooner, to coincide with the next Apple TV release.
Can developers use Famo.us to do these amazing things now? Almost. A select group now has access to the code through a Beta program and a Hack Reactor bootcamp. For the rest of us, Famo.us CEO Steve Newcomb has set the countdown clock at 60 days (or less) for the MVP version of the product to be released. He clarified that everything associated with the building of apps will be free and open source for developers in perpetuity. The company will make money off of cloud services tightly integrated with the core code. Beyond app hosting, performance monitoring and analytics, Newcomb announced at the event that they will also release their own alternative to PhoneGap, the popular software now owned by Adobe that packages web apps in native “wrappers” so they can by distributed through app stores.
Throughout the presentation last night, Famo.us VP of engineering Dave Fetterman (formerly head of mobile engineering at Facebook) kept referring to “pushing the ceiling” of web apps. So much so that at any moment I expected the guy who sings the hook on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ hit “Can’t Hold Us” to come out on stage and lead the crowd in a chorus of “na-nas.” But hype aside, it is very impressive what Famo.us can do and how quickly it enables designers and developers to create these sophisticated user experiences. Come launch time, Newcomb expects to have a large collection of UX components from that Capptivate gallery coded as packaged widgets, ready to include in apps. The team also showed demos of their versions of the super cool Rise alarm clock app and the Timbre local music discovery app.
…and the famo.us version on Android
One very striking part of the evening was a demo by a team that has just completed the Hack Reactor bootcamp. Lindsey Smith and her team (Sara Binns, Noah Harris, Andrew Lim) showed the Helix app that allows you to take your 23andMe DNA data from its public API and view it on smoothly twirling helixes. Data visualization is the next big topic on Famo.us’ to do list. Once WebGL is ubiquitous, look for lots more real-time displays of big data both in apps and on the web itself.
This increased ability to make unique, cross-platform experiences will raise the bar for companies that need to distinguish themselves through design (i.e., all of them!) UX guru Jared Spool and educator Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman have been looking at the “skills gap” between what designers know and what companies will need in the coming years. “In the U.S. alone, there are over 150,000 UX job listings,” they write on their website for the Unicorn Institute. “According to CNN Money, the 10-year projected job growth for the UX profession is 22 percent with more than three million jobs expected over the next decade. This number is growing significantly as as bigger companies develop in-house UX teams.”
In response to this need, Spool and Jensen-Inman are running a Kickstarter to fund curriculum development for Center Centre, the first dedicated institution (in the world?) to offer a two-year holistic program in UX Design. The school will be located in Chattanooga, TN and produce employment-ready designers for companies eager to recruit them. And their Kickstarter is still open if you want to support the effort.
The Unicorn Institute, Hack Reactor and many other programs are rising up to provide the kinds of cutting-edge training required to use these exciting new technologies to further imaginative and useful digital experiences. Famo.us fits into this puzzle by providing the tools for designers and developers to be able to prototype and explore these experiences quickly in production-ready code with confidence that they will translate faithfully onto the growing plethora of display media, thus propeling UX design to higher and higher levels.
Put your hands up, like the ceiling can’t hold us!
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