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All of a sudden, everyone wants to be in the business of making user interfaces for mobile phones. In a move that's sure to raise eyebrows - we can only guess by how far, and at what angle - even Qualcomm has got in on the act.

The CDMA chipset and licensing giant has snapped up the impeccably-connected British software company Trigenix - formerly 3G Labs - which allows operators to create custom user interfaces. T-Mobile became Trigenix's first customer last March, when it rolled out its T-Zones using Trigenix Trigplayer software. Trigenix runs on top of the major native phone operating systems, Symbian and, since June, Qualcomm's own BREW too.

Qualcomm will pay $36m for the 54-person strong outfit, which is a snip considering its potential in the European market - something Qualcomm was keen to stress in its accompanying material. Qualcomm already offers its existing carrier customers billing infrastructure and a development environment in BREW, so Trigenix gives it a much more compelling offering.

Although it looks very flashy, incorporating such effects as alpha blending, Trigplayer presents application developers with familiar XML, and operators can update the modular UI over the air.

The acquisition puts Qualcomm on a collision course with OpenWave, which also touts a portable development environment for operators, and fires a warning shot for the smartphone OS vendors Symbian, Nokia, Microsoft and PalmSource to look sharpish.

The story of Symbian's involvement in user interface design over the past six years could fill a short (but not terribly interesting, we admit) novella. Asked if there was one thing he'd do differently, given his time again, founding CEO Colly Myers told The Register, "User interfaces: it was never going to happen ... Everything about those companies is based in their own UIs."

That gives you some idea of what's at stake, as the network operators seek to establish their own look and feel on mobile phones, and companies like Trigenix and OpenWave are a key part of their negotiating armory. ®

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