Macromedia is to acquire Mobile Innovation, a privately-held design and integration house in the UK with around 50 staff, for an undisclosed sum.
What makes this deal noteworthy is that Mobile Innovation designs phones as well as user interfaces. It's an integrator, and Tier One handset manufacturers devolve a lot of design decisions to MI. It's similar to Apple's relationship with Tony Fadell's design shop - which created the iPod - only on a larger scale. MI declines to mention which companies it works with because of confidentiality agreements with phone OEMs, and an opaque web site gives little clues as to what it really does.
But it's well known amongst industry insiders that Mobile Innovation was responsible for the Nokia 9300 Communicator design and other high-end Symbian smartphones, Nokia's Series 90 user interface, and Hildon, the GUI for Nokia's Linux tablet. Both of the founders, CEO Jonathan Sulenski and CTO Matt Millar came from Symbian with Millar's roots reaching back to Psion and the Series 5 PDA.
So what on earth is Adobe, which last week received DoJ clearance to acquire Macromedia, going to do with a smartphone design shop?
The answer is Flash, Millar told us today. Macromedia thinks Flash is going to be very, very big on non-PC devices and Millar agrees. It's a plausible pitch, too, and it goes something like this.
Here we are in 2005 and that mythical beastie called "Mobile Data" has yet to become an accepted part of our daily lives. Beyond the billion dollar niches of text messaging and ringtones, most of us generally don't use data on the go. And even though the WAP fiasco is a distant memory, phones are now incredibly capable computers, and 3G networks and Wi-Fi hotspots are commonplace, data usage is minimal.
How so? Partly it's because mobile has to compete with the real world, and the real world usually beats it every time. Newspapers are more convenient to read, while directions and advice are easier to find by asking a local human. But it's also, as Millar says, because publishers don't have the tools to make delivering that content very easy.
Flash makes it a no brainer, he argues. A good app requires only a few lines of code, which means that publishers don't have to deploy armies of Web 2.0 consultants, and the content goes everywhere.
"Flash runs on RTOS phones, on Microsoft phones, on Symbian and on BREW. Flash Lite 1.1 is in the Samsung D-600 and all of Sony Ericsson's latest phones," he says.
"Now when you think about set top boxes, then the publisher can use the same services for creating content on a PC, a mobile phone, or TV. Our skills include what makes a great UI on a small device with only a few buttons, but a great display: and that's the same challenge you have designing for a set top box."
So MI will "create a mobile consulting practice for Macromedia and will form part of the Macromedia Consulting team in EMEA."
And it suggests that one of these epic battles that litter the computer industry is about to commence, with Adobe deadly serious about putting its platform software on every device that can possibly run it.
So perhaps Chairman Bill had the right idea when he got paranoid over Java in the mid-1990s. He simply identified the wrong platform and the wrong opponent. ®
Bootnote: Millar has a nice take on how product design takes place. "It takes one designer to cause enough problems for nine engineers to solve," he says.