Sun continues pursuit of Java for iPhone

Apple has not been publicly receptive to having Java on its popular new device

Sun continues to pursue talks with Apple Computer to have Java applications run on Apple's iPhone while acknowledging a third party's efforts toward the same goal.

"We've expressed our intent to do this and our desire, really, to work with Apple to build a JVM (Java Virtual Machine) for the iPhone and we're sort of moving forward with that," said Eric Klein, Sun vice president of Java marketing, this week. The JVM could run Java applications.

Apple has not been publicly receptive to having Java on its popular new device. There have been questions about whether Apple's iPhone SDK agreement would permit this. The JVM potentially could sidestep Apple's App Store program for dispensing iPhone applications.

Meanwhile, Sun also is working with Innaworks to bring Java applications to the iPhone.

"They're actually working on a solution that allows developers to compile [Java Micro Edition or Java ME] applications into native iPhone applications," said Klein. Companies can submit these applications for inclusion in App Store. Innaworks will show its solution at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco in two weeks, Klein said.

The Innaworks product, alcheMo for iPhone, is initially targeted at games publishers. Now in a beta release, alcheMo for iPhone can be used to port Java ME mobile games to iPhone and iPod touch without the need for further manual adjustments. The product features an optimizing translator to convert Java ME application source code to equivalent source code for iPhone, according to the Innaworks press statement on the product.

But Sun still wants to put a JVM on iPhone through the iPhone SDK. "[Apple is] well aware of what we're doing, and we're in discussions," Klein said. The two companies need to discuss clauses in the SDK license agreement.

"There's no question one of our goals from the Java platform perspective is to allow our developers to get to as many phones as possible, and obviously, the iPhone has turned out to be a very successful platform, and we want to be on it," said Klein. There has been much excitement about Sun's plans, he stressed.

Apple declined to provide a spokesperson to comment on the issue. But an industry analyst cited Apple's desire to maintain control of the iPhone.

"They believe that they can deliver a better product by exerting a great deal of control over their platform," said Ezra Gottheil, analyst for Technology Business Research (TBR). The license agreement for Apple's SDK apparently allows Apple to prevent a program that runs other programs, such as a JVM, from being used on iPhone, according to Gottheil.

He wondered whether having Java on the iPhone would offer a lot of value. "It doesn't seem like it adds a lot," Gottheil said.

While Gottheil acknowledged Java's large presence on handheld phones, he added, "I'm not aware of any big-winner Java applications on those phones. I could be wrong."

A Sun representative countered that applications like the mobile versions of Google Maps and Google Mail as well as the RIM application suite are written in Java.

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