Home Facebook’s Mysterious Hire: The Guy Who Designed Much of the iPhone

Facebook’s Mysterious Hire: The Guy Who Designed Much of the iPhone

Facebook announced today that it has acquired a startup called Push Pop Press and most of the media coverage of the news has focused on Push Pop’s dazzling e-book technology for clients including Al Gore. There’s been some mention that one of Push Pop’s co-founders, Mike Matas, was a former Apple designer.

There’s a whole lot more to the story than that, though. Matas wasn’t just one of many Apple designers; he designed many of the key interfaces you probably interact with every day if you own an iPhone, an iPad or a Mac. Now he’s at Facebook. It’s a big deal.

This isn’t the first time that Mike Matas has been hired through acquisition, either. In 2005, Apple acquired his startuphired him away from his startup Delicious Monster. He was 19 years old at the time. That company built a media organizing tool called Delicious Library. Update: Turns out I was wrong about that. Apple just hired Matas. That doesn’t sound very good. Maybe everybody’s getting paid and it’s OK though, I don’t know.

Delicious Library is now the books on a shelf interface Apple uses to display media in iTunes, iBooks and other apps. (Asked today if Facebook had been calling him, Wil Shipley, Matas’s co-founder at Delicious Library, said on Twitter “Nope! Always a bridesmaid.”)

While acting as a Human Interface Designer at Apple for the four years, three of which were before the iPhone’s launch, Matas worked extensively on the secret world-changing phone.

Matas designed the camera, photos, maps, settings and battery display for the iPhone. The iPhone doesn’t ship with very many apps and Matas designed at least four of them. He also designed the Photos app for the iPad. He designed Time Machine and Photo Booth for the Mac. He’s not Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design guy at the very top, but he’s pretty high profile none the less.

And now he’s at Facebook.

A Detour Through the Super-Stealth

Oddly, Mike Matas appeared set to engage in a different kind of experiment just a few weeks ago. While still winning accolades for the e-book platform he co-founded, Matas’s name showed up in reports about a stealthy new startup called Nest Labs.

According to a report by Green Tech Media’s widely respected writer Michael Kanellos, Matas was working with Nest on a home networked climate control system. What were they making? Presumably one hell of a compelling interface for getting people to minimize their home power consumption, designed to be as pleasing to use as an iPhone.

Several Apple designers were in on the product; I saw tonight that Tom Crabtree, former Apple Art Designer who created the first iPhone packaging lists Nest as a client as well.

Kanellos sees some clues and takes a guess that Nest may have taken money from the Venture Capital firm Al Gore is a part of, the venerable Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Early backers of Google, Amazon, etc.

Nest.com is a pretty mysterious website for the company, too. There’s nothing there but a very bold and ambiguous quote from investor Bill Prescott ;apparently Google has never indexed any inbound links to it.

Sorry, Bill, Mike Matas at least is at Facebook now.

None of this discussion even addresses the apparently TED-wowing e-book platform that Matas built for Push Pop Press. Facebook says it’s not going into that business but will incorporate some of the company’s work. Look out Twitter, look out Google Plus, Facebook is going to go Apple design on you. Matas is far from the only rock star designer Facebook has scooped up lately, either.

So the mysterious young designer who designed much of the interface for the most-loved mobile device in history, then began to work on transforming reading into an act befitting the future, then began working on making personal environmental responsibilities like turning off the lights in your house fun…is now at Facebook.

That sounds like the beginning of something very interesting. Some people say the Web suffers from social network overload already. More likely, I suspect, the world of social networking is just beginning to emerge. It’s going to get a whole lot better, too.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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