Famous is a company that has arguably failed — twice. But its most recent incarnation may have succeeded in solving one of the most vexing problems in marketing today: how to bridge the user-experience gap between the mobile web and apps.
Famous is run by Steve Newcomb, the founding COO of semantic search engine Powerset, which sold to Microsoft in 2008. Newcomb’s open source engineering platform original vision for Famo.us didn’t work out and so Famous.co has applied its technology to a very different set of problems.
The company developed a proprietary rendering engine (and has received a patent) that enables webpages to look and function like full-screen native apps, but without a download and very light data requirements. The company is initially pitching Instant Apps as a better mobile landing page solution for search, social and display. But the use cases go far beyond that landing-page scenario.
Instant Apps are highly visual and versatile. They can be shallow or very deep. They are able to deliver immersive video, product demos, e-commerce and a range of other rich user experiences. They can also operate on and adapt to any screen size, from smartphones to giant wall monitors.
The company is working with a range of top brands across an array of verticals, including Beauty, Fashion, Entertainment, Travel, Home Decor, Sports & Fitness and others. It asserts that engagement and conversion metrics for Instant Apps are much higher than conventional mobile sites. Once you see them in action it’s easy to see why. I didn’t experience Instant Apps in the wild but saw demos and various mock-ups in Famous’ San Francisco headquarters.
Brands provide their existing creative assets and Famous builds the Instant App or multiple versions, which can be A/B tested and be accessed via a simple URL. The versatility and app-like richness of the user experiences were impressive. And, as you might expect, the company says it’s all highly scalable.
The data show that mobile users spend nearly 90 percent of their time in apps, yet that time is highly concentrated in just a few apps. The mobile web has much greater reach but its traffic is superficial.
Most users are resistant to downloading new apps or abandon non-performing apps quickly. Instant Apps offers an answer to this problem for a majority of mobile marketing use cases: it provides a rich, app-like user experience that is tied to a URL and can be delivered anywhere online.
The use cases are many and varied. Instant Apps could potentially function as mobile website substitutes. Indeed, they would offer a great landing page or website solution for SMB aggregators (e.g., HomeAdvisor, OpenTable) and not just brands. However, Newcomb doesn’t want to stray from the current product vision; large brands have been quick to recognize the value and opportunity of Instant Apps.
Google also has a project called Instant Apps, which seeks to deliver app experiences over the mobile web, via search. However, what Famous has done is probably simpler to execute. It has also probably shown us the hybrid future in which the mobile sites and landing pages look and act a lot more like apps — except that they aren’t.