Intel, Sun to optimize J2ME for mobile devices

Intel and Sun Microsystems have put aside high-level rivalries to pursue the smart phone and mobile computing device market by working to optimize Sun's Java software for the Intel XScale processor, which powers advanced voice and data phones and handheld devices. Analysts called the deal a smart move.

Hans Geyer, vice president and general manager of the PCA component group at Intel, described the agreement as unprecedented, calling it "the first formal deal" between the two competitors. According to Geyer, Intel sees the deal with Sun as "significant because Java is becoming (the) leading programming language for cell phones, while at the same time, the XScale processor is becoming the leading processor for cell phones."

"We are excited about the deal with Intel," said Juan Dewar, senior director of Sun's consumer mobility and strategic solutions group. "It confirms that we are the leading solution for wireless data services." He estimated that by the end of this month, more than 100 million Java-equipped phones will have been shipped worldwide.

He said that Sun licenses its "reference implementations" of Java to resellers such as Palm, some of whose newest handhelds use XScale processors, or Samsung, which plans to introduce a line of XScale phones this summer.

Dewar declined to provide details of those licensing agreements, but he did say that resellers pay more for optimized reference designs because they can reduce development time. Dewar added that the Sun/Intel partnership should start shipping the optimized code by mid-June.

Developing an optimized version of the Connected Limited Device Configuration of the Java 2 Platform Micro Edition (J2ME) for XScale processor means applications will run faster and the hardware will have a longer battery life, Geyer said. He noted that the Intel/Sun agreement is an engineering partnership that doesn't involve payments by either company.

Alex Slawsby, an analyst at IDC, said J2ME can use the performance boost. Although the software is easy to use for application development, Java programs "have always been slow," he said. "This should help improve the user experience."

Sam Bhavnani, an analyst at ARS, said that the partnership will allow Sun to poke its nose into Microsoft's tent, because a number of manufacturers of hardware based on Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system already use XScale processors, as does hardware based on the Microsoft Smartphone operating system. Later this month, Bhavnani said, Microsoft plans to introduce the 2003 version of Pocket PC, which he said is designed to run solely on XScale processors.

Although Java has done well in the cell phone and mobile market, it also faces competition from Linux. In February, Motorola announced plans to ship new mobile phones that use both Java and the Linux operating system.