NTT Docomo launched 3G trial services on May 30th in Japan with 1,400 3G handsets - a move that turned the mobile industry florescent green with excitement. Java's mass market introduction has received significantly less press, although 3 million Java handsets have already been sold in Japan, and over 90 Java applications are available for downloading. With other roll-outs of 2.5G and 3G services across the globe, has Java technology been forgotten in the hype?
"I just came back from Japan where the excitement is infectious," says Reuven Carlyle, Executive Vice President of UIEvolution, a company that has developed an enhanced Java platform to allow real time interactivity between users. "JPhone pitched their devices with a 3D color graphic of a cartoon character," Reuven says. "They don't even mention its done with Java. The cartoon is mesmerizing to watch, and they are using that application to sell their phones."
Java and 3G are not competing technologies. It will take an advanced software platform, like Java, as well as the increased bandwidth of 2.5 and 3G networks upgrades for mobile phones to deliver improved technology - like dancing 3D cartoons over rich interactive applications.
Eric Chu, Group Manager at Sun Microsystems believes that Java is the future. "Java completely opens the handsets for applications," he says. "WAP and SMS is relatively boring in comparison - they need a lot of network traffic back and forth, and the applications are not exciting or engaging. Java allows you to process and run an application over a handset. You do not have to always be connected, and charging air time."
The news about greater bandwidth may be interesting, like announcing a device which can show moving images a hundred years ago was interesting. Neat, but what drew mass interest was the actual content that followed - Star Wars, a Royal wedding, World Cup Football!
Java phones today and tomorrow
As for the rest of the world, Java devices are just starting to hit the market. Motorola started rolling out their Java i85 and i50sx iDen handsets in April of this year over the Nextel Network in the U.S.
At Java One in San Francisco, June 4th, Pekka Ala-Pietila, President of Nokia, pledged to deliver 50 million handsets by 2002 and double that number a year later. Anders Wasterlid, Head of Application Products for the Consumer Division of Ericsson says they will introduce their Java handset by the end of this year, and will be offering multiple devices by next year.
The cutting edge of Java applications
The coming-out party for Java was this year's JavaOne Conference in San Francisco. The conference highlight was a Java mobile application competition: given six hours, developers had to design a Java application for the prize of a BMW Z3 2.5 roadster. Six hours later, David Fox, an independent programmer, had produced HomeMonitor, an application that allowed a Java handset to control home or office air-conditioning or lighting settings remotely, and to provide remote surveillance of rooms via web cams, streaming video directly to the handset.
At the end of the conference David Fox was on a cross country road trip, driving his BMW from San Francisco to his home in Brooklyn, NY.
Publicity stunts aside, various companies are using Java to enhance mobile technology for tomorrow. Some of the notable companies are UIEvolution and Zucotto Wireless in the gaming space, Bonita Software and Visto Corp in the messaging space, MapInfo in the mapping space, and Lightsurf and TruSpectra in the imaging space.
As for future applications, JavaOne has proved that the versatility of Java combined with the already huge pool of Java developers are making "wireless programming" very accessible. After all, Java is something people (well, certain kinds of people) might even do for fun.
What the Java future has in store for games
Both UIEvolution and Zucotta Wireless are leaders in the gaming space, but their technology so far is focused on enhancing Java for wireless, not on developing games.
Reuven Carlyle of UIEvolution explains, "We listen to the customers' comments and to their silence. The fact that customers have shown that they don't like the wireless internet is not their fault. The user experience is slow, boring and uninteresting. We have based our model around enhancing Java for true interactivity between content and user. This means a platform for multi-player games over multi-devices and multi-platforms, with rich color, extraordinary graphics, and integration with emails and messaging."
At present, Gladiator, by Jamdat, (the most popular wireless game in America) offers three areas to attack an opponent, while allowing the remote opponent three areas to defend. The game involves guessing where to hit and guessing where to defend. Fun for now, but so was rock-paper-scissors when it was new.
Meanwhile, Zucotta Wireless announced their Xpresso Processor for Java technology on June 4th. Their technology extends the benefits of J2ME technology for multimedia handset devices and PDAs.
Zucotto's Xpresso 100 microcontroller merges Java and Bluetooth technology to take advantage of Bluetooth's limited high speed wireless network to run fully interactive games on color displays. Stuart Creed of Zucotto Wireless says, "Java fits in really well with people wanting to personalize their devices. Look how popular the swapping of handset covers has been, and then changing ring tones. With Java people can download applications and choose their own killer app."
Messaging for everyone
In terms of messaging, Bonita Software and Visto Corporation are leading different areas.
Bonita's CEO Joseph Carsanara promises that their Java platform is at least 12 months ahead of the current market, and will offer messaging with intelligent integration of location, applications and email directory. Bonita also offers tools and software to developers to create Java programs that can run over any wireless device, from a Nokia 9290 to a Palm VII.
Joseph Carsanara says, "Internet-based programs are very powerful for the mobile work force, but hard to use in remote locations, that move in and out of the network. Insurance claims applications is a good example of this. Java allows people to access these applications at a low cost. You used to have to have separate devices for all the applications available for Java."
Visto has created a Java platform to allow users to access their Personal Information Management (PIM), this includes corporate email, calendar, and contact information, through the corporate firewall.
To do this Visto's VMAP (Visto mLynx Access Platform) platform synchronizes with MS Exchange. Renne Niemi, Senior VP of Marketing at Visto says, "This is much better that the Microsoft experience, which is via WAP. Visto's solution is able to respond to an application offline, so it doesn't have to deal with the slowness of the connection. This takes handset to the next level, from voice devices to computing devices. Handsets can now be corporate tools."
MapInfo announced a partnership with Motorola on April 24th of this year, with MapInfo offering their MiGuide applications over Motorola's iDen phones.
The MiGuide includes location-based maps and driving directions, as well as yellow pages and retail business directories. These are not just image maps, but interactive maps that offer directions and the ability to search for locations. "The wireless world is about knowing where mobile customers are, what is around them and how to get them there," says Mark Cattini, president and CEO of MapInfo. "Success in the mobile location marketplace dictates the need for independent development platforms."
Imaging over a handset may be the most superficial way to judge an improvement in technology; however, in terms of drawing customer interest it is the easiest. Consumers can see the obvious advancements between current graphics and the applications Lightsurf and TrueSpectra are designing.
Lightsurf's technology can send pictures over current WAP phones, but Robin Nijor, Vice President for Marketing and Sales at LightSurf, predicts a vast improvements with Java." We're not looking at the most beautiful picture. For us the immediacy of sending something visual is our focus," he says. "WAP phones offer black and gray images in the most basic sense. This time next year color displays will be very common. You're already seeing this in Japan."
The other leading company in the mobile imaging space, TrueSpectra, takes this a step further than simply downloading an image to a handset. They allow the manipulation of an image, for changing angle, color, lighting and background. One aim of TrueSpectra's ImageTone Platform to provide a mobile E-tail showroom to allow interaction with M-commerce sales, such as clothing.
Nothing is a given, but Java is a good bet
Is not assured that all the handsets will be running Java in the future. The other companies involved in next-stage mobile platforms, like Qualcomm's BREW, Microsoft's PocketPC and Symbian with EPOC may disagree.
Of the competition, Microsoft offers the strongest. With their ability to sync information between the handset Microsoft CE and the corporate Microsoft Explorer, for enterprise sales they should be very successful.
But in terms of who will have the majority of the market, Java is the first to market and has the major handset manufacturers using their platform, from Nokia to JPhones to Siemens and Motorola and Ericsson. Not to mention Java has 2.5 million developers.
Java is obviously an important step towards the promise of the mobile Internet. If it has been forgotten in the overpowering 2.5G and 3G hype, it doesn't matter. Remember, the hype around WAP only created WAP-lash, as people became frustrated with the slow basic technology.
Far better to have less press but more users.
C.J. Kennedy is currently the senior staff writer for Unstrung.com, and has covered the mobile industry for M-Business Magazine, The Wireless Developer Network, Wireless Business & Technology, Wireless Related, and The Industry Standard.