Nextel Communications and Motorola Monday launched the first Java-based cellphones in the US.
Nextel is now offering the Motorola i85s and i50sx handsets preloaded with several Java applications, including a datebook, voice-activated dialing, a 250-entry phonebook, and a built-in voice recorder that can play back up to 20 messages.
Nextel also is including a Sega interactive game written in Java.
The phones are loaded with the Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) software, which lets handset users download, store and run applications in the devices themselves, without the need for a continuous net connection.
By contrast, information services that use the Wireless Access Protocol rely on a device-based WAP browser that interacts with network servers. If the connection fails, a frustratingly common occurrence on cellphone nets, the application is unavailable.
Both companies, along with Sun Microsystems, are launching an aggressive courtship of third-party Java software developers, especially for software aimed at the enterprise market. The three partners are coordinating an array of technical support, education and marketing support programs to encourage development for the handsets.
One developer who has signed on for J2ME is Agency.com, a New York Internet consulting firm for online business projects. The company created a prototype application, called a "midlet," that is downloaded to the Motorola handset, and used by insurance assessors to plan their schedule of visits to assess damaged vehicles and then send back to headquarters some preliminary information.
"There won't be a 'one-size fits all' super application [for these Java phones]," says Tim Appnel, directory of technology, for Agency.com. "Rather, there will be many midlets that cater to a certain task or set of functions."
Sun has been heavily promoting J2ME as a programming environment for a wide range of handsets. LG Telecom, in Korea, and NTT DoCoMo, in Japan, have recently also introduced there Java-based cellphones that, like PCs, now can be programmed.
During a joint conference call to unveil the Nextel offering, Sun CEO Scott McNealy said the Motorola J2ME phones will be able to work with future Web services built on Sun Open Net Environment (Sun ONE), a set of Java software tools, applications and APIs. But Nextel officials said they now are only evaluating Sun ONE, with no plans yet for deploying services built on it.
In the short term, enterprise IT groups can expect to see an increasing number of industry-specific groups of Java applets aimed at Java phone business users.
Agency.com's Appnel says J2ME, compared to today's WAP applications, can give to enterprise users more functions and control, easier and more sophisticated interactions with back-end applications, and a more flexible and versatile user interface.
The Motorola i85s is about 5 x 2 x 1.2 inches, and weighs just under 5 ounces, with its battery. It is targeted at white-collar workers. A wireless modem is built-in, and the users can send and receive files, faxes and e-mail.
The i50sx is fractionally larger and about one ounce heavier, and a press release says it has interchangeable color faceplates. But a search of the Motorola Web site found no details of this model.
Nextel is now offering the i85s on the carrier's TDMA network at an introductory price of US$199, about $100 less than the suggested retail price. The handset's battery offers 165 minutes of talk time and 75 hours of standby time.