As a mobile phone chip maker, Marvell Technology doesn’t always have sexy demos. But at the company’s headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., it can really wow its guests with something called Kinoma Play.

Kinoma Play is a user interface for smartphones, tablet computers, and other mobile devices. It can be built into a single application or become the user’s main interface for operating the multimedia apps on a phone. Kinoma Play is a beautiful, functional, fluid and fast interface. It works great with a touchscreen, letting you do tasks more easily, such as flipping through your music collection or zooming in on a face in a picture. Marvell acquired the small software company Kinoma with just 12 people a month ago.

It makes sense for a chip maker to do this because it isn’t all about the hardware. Great smartphone software can show off the power of a chip through applications such as photo browsing. To give its chips a leg up, Marvell can package hardware and software together to deliver a full solution to phone makers and mobile carriers, says Peter Hoddie, vice president of Kinoma.

“We’re a bunch of software guys who worked on things like the original Quicktime” media player, Hoddie said. “We have deep roots in software.”

Kinoma Play can move really fast. It loads a five megapixel photo in under one second, compared to three seconds for other software. You can put your finger on a touchscreen and hold it there. The software will zoom in on the spot in the photo where you are pressing. You can scroll through music or video collections as if you were looking at a carousel. And you can do that in either horizontal or vertical modes. If you run a video and then exit to the main menu, you can still see a video icon with the video imagery moving.

Founded more than eight years ago, the Kinoma team created software that ran on the Palm operating system and Sony’s original Sony Reader eBook device. Some 40 or 50 apps were built to work with Kinoma Play, which is not a full operating system but a subset of one, dubbed a user interface. Kinoma Play has been used on some phones in Japan and the Google Nexus One. It’s also being designed into phones that are coming out in the future.

Marvell sells billions of chips each year for mobile devices. The combination of the two makes sense because Kinoma Play runs efficiently on both lightweight and heavy-duty hardware. This approach is called a “stack,” where Marvell provides not only the hardware but the software that makes the hardware functional.

“Marvell is a hardware company that sees what software means,” Hoddie said. “It is working its way up the stack.”

Hoddie said that Kinoma Play can work on phones with slow 150-megahertz processors because it is built into a very low level of an operating system. It has a performance advantage over software that sits on the highest level. It can thus flip through a collection of photos at a much faster speed than other photo viewers could. It works on either capacitive (multitouch) screens or resistive (single-touch) screens.

Kinoma Play can pretty much run on any operating system. Over time, Hoddie expects to make the platform available as open source software so that others can modify it for their own purposes. After all, Marvell wants to make money selling chips, not providing software. Users who learn how to use Kinoma Play on one device will find they can use it on another.

Hoddie said Marvell can take Kinoma Play’s user interface into new markets such as home automation controls and smart meters. In these markets, the hardware is often light years ahead of the software, which is often difficult to use because it has been designed by engineers who aren’t used to creating consumer software. The first phone with the new version of Kinoma is expected to launch at the end of February.

“This is just the beginning for us,” Hoddie said.

Hoddie shows off a demo of Kinoma Play in the video below.


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