Some developers embrace Qualcomm's Brew

Although the Java programming language has already made significant inroads in the mobile phone space, Qualcomm Inc. claims its competing Brew technology is now primed to make its move as well, giving end users access to new types of applications on their cellular phones. In a sign of growing support for Brew, a number of third-party developers showed up at an industry event this week to show off applications for the technology.

Both Brew (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) and the compact version of Java known as J2ME(Java 2 Micro Edition) should give software developers better platforms for developing gaming applications and other types of complex programs for cellular phones. Nokia Corp. and other manufacturers are already making Java-enabled handsets, and large mobile operators including NTT DoCoMo Inc., and Nextel Communications Inc. are selling Java-enabled handsets.

Even though Java is thriving and Brew is just taking off, Qualcomm did receive plenty of developer support at this week's CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association) event held here, and officials outlined a Brew strategy that differs somewhat from the strategies used with Java.

Operators such as Verizon Wireless Inc., Korea Telecom Freetel Inc.(KT Freetel), and Japan's KDDI Corp. are working with Qualcomm on pushing Brew technology forward, with trials currently being conducted in Korea and just getting under way with Verizon in the U.S., said Rob Chandhok, senior director of business development at Qualcomm.

Along with the operators, application developers including OmniSky Corp., Togabi Technologies Inc. and Visto Corp. demonstrated new applications built around Brew. OmniSky showcased its Hollywood.com program that helps users find times, locations and reviews of movies on a cellular phone. On the multimedia front, Togabi showed a streaming media player that allows users to run audio and video clips on handsets. Visto took the wraps off a Brew-based messaging application that could allow corporate users to access and manage their e-mail accounts and contacts via a cellular phone, according to a statement.

"We made a serious effort with Brew to add in a business model that works for developers." Chandhok said.

Qualcomm helps carriers set up systems for managing the downloads of Brew applications onto devices, including a billing system that tracks how many times an application is downloaded and how much the developer should receive as payment for their software. In many cases, a Brew developer will receive 80 percent of the revenue generated when a consumer pays for an application, with the carriers taking the other 20 percent, Chandhok said.

Brew has an arguably tighter relationship with processors inside of handsets than does J2ME, as it sits between the system software of the processors and an application. To run a Java-based application, users need to have a program known as a JVM (Java Virtual Machine) installed on the device. The close link between Brew and the chips in devices could make applications such as games run faster than similar applications written for the notoriously slow Java, Chandhok said.

Although Brew currently only runs on Qualcomm chipsets using CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology, manufacturers are expected to support Brew on both CDMA and non-CDMA chipsets in the near future, Chandhok said.

Brew developers must also receive certification from Qualcomm for their applications, which Qualcomm says adds a layer of security for the end user. In the Java model, users could download any compatible application put out by developers on the Web. While this approach does grant a fair amount of freedom to developers and users, Chandhok claims it could create security risks if a developer put out a malicious piece of code.

"We always know the identity of the developers who have written the code on a device and can recall the applications over our network if there is a problem," Chandhok said.

A study put out in July by ResearchPortal.com points to Java's current success but claims that Brew could well pull ahead over the next couple of years.

"Java has been around much longer than Brew, giving it a built-in familiarity and developer base that will cause it to be used more in the near term," ResearchPortal said in the report. "However, the advantages of familiarity will be relatively short lived, as research suggests that Brew will be . . . more compelling for use in the next-generation mobile phones, allowing it to outstrip Java-enabled devices by 2003."

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