Google has bought BumpTop, a company that makes 3-D desktop UIs for the PC (Windows and Mac). The purchase amount was not disclosed of course, although the company had only raised a small amount of investor cash, less than $2 million. So figure the acquisition was less than $20 million — probably more like $10 to $15 million at most.
On to the speculative “what will Google do with BumpTop” scenarios. All the posts feverishly written last night predominantly assume that BumpTop will be used to “sex up” (as the British would say) the Android UI. There’s also discussion of how it might work on tablets and potentially Chrome OS netbooks due out later this year — although there’s theoretically no “desktop” with Chrome OS because everything is browser-based.
Android is not the best arena for the BumpTop UI/UX because of the small screen; moving things around your handset “desktop” is not going to be all that exciting or very useful. BumpTop is much more fully realized on a tablet or touch-screen notebook. Probably the best expression of the BumpTop experience would be on Microsoft’s Surface, which hasn’t really been very widely deployed.
Google probably bought the company, however, as much for its founder Anand Agarawala and his team as any technology it possesses. Google likely recognizes in BumpTop an opportunity to develop next-generation interfaces more generally, with some element of that being 3-D.
Another problem with the Android scenario is that Google’s two largest handset partners, Mototola and HTC, are busy deploying or developing their own proprietary UI overlays on top of Android (i.e., Motoblur, Sense). The general movement is away from a “generic” Android UI and toward OEM differentiation. So it’s unlikely that they’ll want to embrace a standard Android UI again — however sexy.
There’s also the possibility that Google sees the underlying technology or its successor as a potential UI for Google Docs/Apps.
Regardless of the likelihood of any of these particular scenarios, I’m sure Google sees multiple, potential uses for the technology. And $15 million is like lunch money for Google.