By Joachim Bamrud, Tue Jul 29 00:00:00 GMT 2003
Java is growing fast on wireless devices. A closer look at the benefits and the outlook of the technology.
Brian Levin, president of U.S.-based
mobile content provider Mobliss, loves his Java. The technology that is.
"It takes games and the interactive experience to another
level," he says. "The biggest advantage is having something
that is downloadable in the client, that doesn't have to be
embedded. You can get live scoreboards...snow reports, games, stock
Java, a technology developed by Sun Microsystems,
enables wireless web sites to feature more advanced images - both still
and moving - and are widely used for mobile games, including those
developed by Mobliss as well as its competitors. There are two wireless
versions of Java - one simply known as wireless Java and another known
as J2ME (Java 2 Platform Micro Edition). The J2ME includes Mobile
Information Device Profile (MIDP), which in its latest specification
(2.0) includes multimedia (Mp3, MMS, video) and more advanced game
“MIDP 2.0. Is going to blow MIDP 1.0 out of
the water,” says David J. Stennett, director of operations at Midletsoft
Corp., a developer specializing in J2ME.
aren't the only application that benefit from Java. "Most of
the attention in the early market is on games, but Java goes beyond
that, for example to offer richer maps for driving directions, or
interactive graphics for a product catalog," says Carl Zetie, vice
president of Giga Information Group.
In fact, some analysts are
predicting that games won't be the main use of Java in a few years.
ARC Group forecasts that location-based services will be the main user
of Java after 2004.
A key advantage with Java is that it can
operate independent from a network. "This alleviates user
frustrations with slow wireless data transmission speeds, dropped
sessions and high per-minute prices," says Becky Diercks, director
of wireless research at In-Stat/MDR.
It also means that a sales
manager on a plane can download sales statistics and then view and chart
them in a variety of ways without having to constantly fetch new views
across the network, adds Zetie. Or a consumer could download a local
portion of a restaurant guide and sort or search it on various criteria,
again without constantly crossing the network, he points out.
"Of course, such applications are also possible with other
platforms besides Java, but Java's advantage over those others is
that as the (likely) standard, it creates a very large potential
audience for application and service developers that doesn't
restrict your potential market to certain networks or certain
manufacturers," Zetie says.
German developer Brodos
recently claimed that it could reduce the price of sending text messages
by 60 percent by using Java. Last, but not least, Java can boast an
impressive number of developers. A survey by Evans Data Corporation
among more than 500 wireless developers in January 2001, showed that a
third - 29.4 percent - planned to target Java/J2ME. That was higher than
other operating systems like Palm and Windows CE. A year later, more
than half - 53.6 percent - of 600 developers surveyed said they were
The large number of developers working on Java means
a fast-growing offer of content, a key factor in boosting mobile
“Java holds considerable promise for more
compelling consumer applications,” says John Jackson, a wireless analyst
with the Yankee Group. "Java is going to be critically
important," adds Zetie. "If there is going to be a standard on
mobile phones and other small mobile devices, it's going to be
Java, and without a standard there won't be the kind of thriving
mobile economy that everybody's hopes are resting
There are currently 26.3 million Java-enabled mobile
handsets worldwide, according to Jackson. That's up from last year
when there were 14.7 million handsets, according to ARC Group. The
dominant share of the handsets - more than 80 percent - are in Asia,
especially Japan, according to Jackson.
All the leading phone
producers, including Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson, are including or plan
to include Java on their phones. All in all, 15 handset manufacturers
are developing J2ME devices, according to Diercks.
the first-tier and most of the second-tier handset makers are backing
J2ME - and by "backing" it I mean bringing actual products to
market, not merely signing up for some standards body or industry
consortium," says Zetie.
Among recent models shipped are
the Siemens M50, the Nokia 3410 and the Motorola i95cl (the first
Motorola color-screen phone in the US).
Java and Other
Like any other technology, of course,
Java is not perfect.
"Applications have to be downloaded
before they can be used - and with limited memory on a small phone,
you may find yourself swapping applications in and out, which could
become tedious," Zetie says. "That would be inconvenient if
you just wanted some quick information such as checking whether a
train is on time: you would spend more time downloading the application
than reading the information." That is one reason why J2ME will be
co-existing alongside WAP and Web browsers (and even browsers being
written in Java), he predicts.
Another disadvantage is that
carriers and producers are creating proprietary applications based on
Java, analysts and content developers say. "Each carrier has
different implementations for different handsets, different flavors of
J2ME with different extensions, so synergies you were supposed to get
have not materialized," says Levin.
For example, NTT DoCoMo
has iAppli applications based on J2ME, but those couldn't be
accessed or used by customers of other carriers because they are
proprietary, adds Diercks. "That basically negates the usefulness
of having a standard," she says. Java is increasingly also facing
"competition" from two other rich-content technologies: Binary
Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW), developed by Qualcomm, and
Microsoft 2002 SmartPhone software.
One major advantage BREW has
over Java is that the former is built into the chip of the phone itself,
making it faster than Java. "BREW's main advantage... is
that it is built in closer to the phone, and is really meant to work on
a phone, so it's going to optimize a phone (not a PDA)," says
But with solutions from companies like Zucotto that
include Java into chipsets that disadvantage should disappear, says
However, Qualcomm and several independent analysts
don't view BREW as a rival to Java, but a complement. J2ME can
even run on BREW. Insignia Solutions recently launched a system, Mobile
Foundation, that enables any BREW device to have full access to any
Java application. "It's not a BREW versus Java issue"
says Jackson. "It's a BREW and Java issue."
only works over networks that use CDMA technology, which is largely
limited to the United States and Korea. On the other hand, CDMA
networks are always timed with satellites, which make them more ideal
for location-based applications, Diercks points out.
Wireless, the top U.S. carrier, is aggressively pushing BREW, but its
goal of having one million BREW-enabled handsets on the U.S. market
over the next year still pales compared with the current Java
availability, says Jackson.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is following a
dual policy of both competing with, and using, Java. The Seattle giant
has stated that it doesn’t plan to support Java after 2004, which
spurred Sun to file an anti-trust lawsuit in March.
the long-awaited (and delayed) Sendo device that uses Microsoft’s
smartphone technology also includes Java.
themselves are clearly deciding that Java will co-exist alongside the
native platform, even on Microsoft-powered devices," Zetie says.
"And since in the eyes of many, Microsoft itself can't win
regardless of what it does or doesn't do with Java, it may be
simplest for Microsoft to leave it to the OEMs to decide - and the OEMs
will presumably do what the market demands."
advantage over BREW and Microsoft is that as the likely standard, it
creates a very large potential audience for application and service
developers that doesn't restrict the potential market to certain
networks or certain manufacturers, according to Zetie.
Developers say J2ME's success will be challenged, however,
if handset makers increase their control over the
"It would make no sense for Java to be
restricted, when in fact it's restricted enough by its small
size," says Stennett. "To gut it out would utterly kill it.
It's like buying a Ferrrari with a Ford Escort motor."
Thanks to the support from the top phone producers, Java is
expected to grow significantly over the next couple of
"I expect ...that Java will be on almost every mid
and upper range handset over the next two years," says Jon Bostrom,
Sun’s director of wireless Java.
ARC Group forecasts a whopping
289.7 million handsets next year - a figure growing to 607.6 million in
2006. Jackson expects much of the future growth to come in Europe and
the United States.
"The big question of course is not how
many will be shipped but whether Americans and Europeans will actually
use phones as data devices, and that depends on what content is made
available," Zetie warns. "Nobody really knows how many will be
used - as opposed to merely shipped - until we see whether content
providers come out with compelling content at attractive
The experience with WAP, where only a small
percentage of the WAP phones shipped are regularly used to access data,
ought to provide a pause for thought for those predicting "millions
and billions" of J2ME handsets in use, he says.
Stennett: "Java will peak for consumers in the next two years - and
will reign supreme thereafter until something better replaces
Joachim Bamrud is an award-winning journalist with 18 years
experience as a writer and editor in the United States, Europe and
Latin America. Bamrud has worked for various print, broadcast and
online media, including Latin Trade, Reuters and UPI.