Adjustable Fonts Help Unlock the Small Screen

News Analysis: While font-related technologies have rarely been considered very sexy, one company is making a name for itself as new services appear on small screens.

Does your cell phone speak English and Arabic?

If your handset does indeed support such wildly different languages, theres a chance that its manufacturer or your mobile carrier is already licensing technology from Monotype Imaging.

The company, based in Woburn, Mass., is a largely silent partner to some of the wireless industrys biggest device makers, operators and content providers, with growing clout in the business.

Most mobiles have traditionally used fixed bit-map font technologies to render one language or another in fairly generic and fixed characters.

However, the explosion of the worldwide wireless market, the increasing number of phones built to work anywhere on the planet, and the avalanche of new multimedia content services aimed at handhelds are demanding that the display capabilities of todays phones get smarter fast.

With a history that features ties to more than 100 years of print typesetting technologies, Monotype has ported its expertise into the business of licensing adjustable font and imaging tools to handheld makers and others, offering wireless companies the ability to support many different language character sets, allow for new multimedia content, and even help create applications for vision-impaired mobile users.

In fact, one of the challenges facing Monotypes business, company executives claim, is that so many of its customers—including some of the worlds largest handset makers—prefer to keep their licensing deals with the company under wraps for competitive reasons that many people still arent familiar with the firms name.

"You might not have heard of us, but theres a good chance that our technology might already be on the mobile device that youre using," said John Seguin, senior vice president and general manager of Monotypes Display Imaging group.

"Theres a transition going on right now from bit maps to scalable fonts, and this is going to help accelerate both the uptake of wireless in developing areas of the world and adoption of new mobile services."

One company willing to discuss its work with Monotype is industry behemoth Qualcomm, which announced the week of Feb. 6 that it has licensed the firms font rendering and text layout software for use in its BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) development platform.

BREW is Qualcomms open-source applications development environment for devices running on CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) wireless technology that it licenses to many handset manufacturers and software makers worldwide.

By combining its development platform with Monotypes iType font rendering subsystem, which is based on the industry standard TrueType and OpenType font formats, and the companys WorldType Layout Engine, a software library used for composing, positioning and rendering multilingual text in applications, executives of San Diego-based Qualcomm said they can allow handset makers far greater ability to offer new and better wireless services.

Next Page: Dramatic changes.