Phone, handheld makers tempt Java developers

Sun Microsystems Inc. is thinking small when it comes to Java, but only in terms of the computing devices that will support the programming language.

At its JavaOne Developer Conference here, Sun and a number of partners building hardware and software based on Java announced new efforts and products that are helping to take the Java community past its competition in the market for building and delivering applications to small devices such as cell phones and handheld computers.

These companies are centering their work on J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition), a standard set of blueprints that hardware and software makers can use when designing products. By the end of the year, Sun said it expects that about 50 million devices will be shipped with Java built in. That number is expected to balloon to about 400 million in the next two years, the company said.

One newcomer to the effort is Research In Motion Ltd., which made its entry into the Java world on Monday, announcing a new IDE (Integrated Development Environment) that allows developers to build applications in Java to run on its wireless BlackBerry device.

BlackBerry applications traditionally have been written in C++. The addition of J2ME is expected to boost the number of applications corporate customers can use on BlackBerry devices by broadening the developer community, the company said.

Meanwhile, Sprint Corp. unveiled here the latest version of the Sprint Wireless Toolkit, which gives developers an environment for building applications tailored to run on its phones. The company has previously offered developer tools and emulators to build Java applications for Sprint phones. The new version includes several additional Java APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that are expected to enhance the networking and multimedia capabilities of Java applications, the company said.

Unlike for the BlackBerry, the applications being built for cell phones typically are designed for consumers. To support this type of development, some added features in Sprint's toolkit will benefit, for example, video game developers building small applications for cell phones. They include support for sound as well as the vibrating function on a handset.

In addition to a Sprint-branded wireless toolkit, partner tool makers have adopted Sprint's Java APIs in their respective wireless toolkits. They include Sun's Forte For Java IDE, as well as Borland Software Corp.'s JBuilder and CodeWarrior by Motorola Inc. subsidiary Metrowerks.

Sprint plans to begin offering consumers access to Java applications from their phones when it rolls out Java-enabled phones and a 3G (third generation) network by the end of the year, a company representative said.

Nokia Corp. already has a developer toolkit on the market and one Java-enabled handset available to consumers. The company is showing eight more handsets at JavaOne that it plans to release this year, said company representative Charles Chopp.

Nokia also launched here an online "broker service" for the building and selling of Java applications that can run on its handsets. Designed for mobile operators, the site would ease the process of bringing new applications to mobile phones. The broker service is an expansion of Nokia's Tradepoint Web site, which is used to promote applications designed for Nokia handsets.

Motorola announced a Bluetooth Java specification developed by the Java Community Process that will allow Java applications to be delivered over Bluetooth, a local wireless network technology. For example, it would allow the applications to be transmitted from a cell phone to a handheld computer.

The Schaumburg, Illinois, communication technology company also announced it is participating in the development of MIDP (Mobile Information Device Platform), the next version of the technology profile for Java-based cell phones. MIDP, which also is being jointly developed by the Java Community Process, will add new support for sound, multimedia, security and networking.

Finally, Sun itself will discuss here this week the next version of its Forte for Java developer tools, which will be available for the first time in a wireless edition.

Although Java tools are being widely embraced, and real applications are being delivered to Java-powered devices in various parts of the world, including Japan, there still is progress to be made in the development of the Java specifications, according to one developer here.

Chase McMichael, chief executive officer of Houston-based application vendor UnBound Technologies, had one burning question: "When will developers actually be able to go public with this stuff?" he asked.

UnBound is developing corporate applications for small devices with Java, including one that allows a user to fill out a time sheet with a mobile phone and have that information recorded in a corporate database. One of McMichael's main concerns is that despite all the support for Java in the wireless community, Java applications are only slowly being delivered in the U.S., he said.

Sun is not alone in its quest to provide the software and architecture for delivering applications to small devices. Its most notable opponent, Microsoft Corp., is embarking on a similar effort with its .Net initiative. The Redmond, Washington, software maker plans to release a compact version of its .Net Framework, which will form the technical foundation for how small devices run Web-based services and other applications based on Microsoft's software.

To be included in devices than run its Pocket PC operating system, as well as Microsoft's new operating system for smartphones, the .Net Compact Framework will extend Microsoft's vision of delivering information to users no matter what devices they are using.

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