What is Particle and why did Apple buy it?


Apple has reportedly made a small acquisition: a San Francisco-based web design and user interface consulting firm called Particle. Apple bought the company for an unnamed sum last month and kept on some of the 10 employees, according to CNET. Several Particle employees’ LinkedIn pages list Apple as their new employer as of September and at least one of them confirms the acquisition on his profile.

Why would Apple acquire a company with a handful of designers when it has plenty of its own already? The answer could lie in Particle’s specialty, which appears to be looking at new ways of displaying content on a variety of devices using HTML5. Apple has been a champion of HTML5 on the web since Steve Jobs’ public dismissal of Adobe Flash for mobile devices more than two years ago.

But Particle has a vision for moving HTML5 beyond where it is today. On its website, the company says that HTML5 and Webkit are already standard on both mobile devices and desktop browsers, but there’s more to be done:

Particle has chosen to focus on this technology so intensely because we believe it will soon be the rendering engine that powers a new universe of light weight and embedded applications from set top boxes to game consoles to Chrome OS and Android devices to portable telephony and media devices of all kinds.

The mention of set top boxes and media devices of all kinds could be a clue that Apple may see Particle’s design vision playing a future role in displaying video and content on devices like Apple TV as well as future iPhones and iPads.

Another reason Apple may have decided to pick up the company: they’ve already worked together. On Particle’s website the company claims to have “great relationships with Apple” due to their work on iAds, iTunes Extras and Apple’s website. Particle also counts Google and Sony and clients.

Even the smallest purchases by Apple can have significant impact on the company’s direction and vision: SoundJam, for example, became iTunes. Chomp became the new App Store look and search algorithm, Fingerworks became iOS multitouch, Siri became, well, Siri. Apple doesn’t make a lot of acquisitions, so even small ones like Particle — that likely few people outside of Silicon Valley have heard of — is notable.

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