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MobUI snaps up Action Engine

Mobtop market ain't what it used to be

Interface-developer MobUI has picked up Mobile-shell development company Action Engine in something of a fire sale, though remarkably few details about the transaction are available.

Action Engine was one of the more vocal companies involved in developing mobile shells - replacement interfaces for mobile phones. The market was expected to grow as operators put more branding onto handsets, and the company managed to raise $20m last August on that basis.

At that time we predicted it would be enough to keep the company turning over for another 12 months, so we weren't far off the mark.

Mobile shells, or "on-device portals", are application-interpretation engines that allow companies to develop content using some form of proprietary XML schema. These include access to phone functions, and generally provide some form of back-end to manage integration with the operators' infrastructure. It's the integration with phone functions and the operators' servers which differentiates such offerings from traditional mobile websites.

Companies such as Surf Kitchen, Abaxia and Onskreen offer shells for the popular smartphone OS, as well as Java versions - the latter with suitably limited functionality - and try to sell them to phone manufacturers, network operators or content owners, in that order.

MobUI is a new, privately-funded company, and promises rapid application development with a focus on usability. It'll therefore be looking to use Action Engine's technology to quickly create impressive eye candy. The fact that it's a few years old, and that many of the engineers who created it jumped ship long ago, shouldn't bother the company too much.

Oddly enough, the iPhone has led to something of a renaissance in mobile shells. Companies touting Windows Mobile devices are increasingly trying to hide Microsoft's interface behind something a little more finger-friendly. But it's manufacturers, not operators, who are pushing their brands these days, and they have less need for third-party providers. ®

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