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At this year’s JavaOne, the big news was the small. Sun Microsystems seemed pretty smug about Java’s dominance on the server side and seemed pretty scared about Java on the desktop — Scott McNealy, Sun’s CEO, all but begged the roomful of attendees to help, please, for the love of mankind, get Java out there. But Java 2 Micro Edition was the place where Sun was really shining.

After all, desktops are small potatoes. The big tuber is to be found in small-fry devices. It is estimated that 100 million devices are already running Java. The ARC Group projects that there’ll be 421.4 million Java devices in 2003 and 1,098,200,000 in 2006!

David Fox

Pretty much every major handset manufacturer around the world has announced that J2ME will be installed on upcoming devices.

Motorola was definitely a leader. They will be launching 13 new J2ME devices this year, including the i95cl, with a lovely color screen. Their booth had some of the most compelling demos I’d seen in a loooong time: Instant Messenger with voice capability, colorful streaming video, truly playable games, and mapping software with GPS. All in Java. Motorola also launched the Mobile Services Cafe, a server that allows operators to easily offer their customers J2ME MIDlets on demand.

Nokia has also become a major Java player, with the announcement of eight new J2ME handsets. They have also released a proprietary API allowing Java apps to access a phone’s tones, lights, graphics, etc. Their hope, however, is not to fragment Java with proprietary standards. Instead, the current API will serve as a bridge to MIDP 2.0, which supports lots more multimedia functionality.

Nokia is the most pervasive handset manufacturer with over 1 billion devices expected by the middle of this year. They are hoping that their new, snazzy Java devices will entice folk to retire their old phones and upgrade. In order to promote the widespread use of Java apps, Nokia has expanded their Tradepoint site. Tradepoint allows MIDlet developers a marketplace in which to sell apps to any and all carriers, handling licensing and other businessey issues, allowing developers to strike deals with carriers in days instead of months.

RIM will continue to put Java on their Blackberry devices. All the apps pre-loaded on their new 5810 are actually written in Java. And Siemens will also be releasing more Java phones in the future, with Java versions of ICQ and AIM. The phones will be priced for mass-market use.

Newcomer Sony-Ericsson has created some high-end Java phones that do nifty things such as capture video-clips and send these flicks to other handsets.

But a Java machine ain’t squat without a network in which to talk, and nearly every major carrier has announced Java support, as well.

“Monty” starts up faster, conserves more battery power, and is 6- to 10-times faster than KVM 1.03. It was also created in a scalable, tunable fashion, allowing it to form the base for MIDP 2.0.

Sprint PCS believes that “Java is an intelligent way in which to conform.” Using MIDP and a proprietary set of graphics and sound classes, Sprint has created a free Wireless Toolkit to develop and test Java apps. They are launching a nationwide packet data network in the middle of this year and their speed will eventually reach 3 to 5 megabytes per second in 2004. They will soon be releasing a color Java phone that costs less than US$200 — a price that opens up these devices to the mass market. They also plan to create a Java vending machine that allows customers to buy apps and download or delete them at will, allowing people to “own” MIDlets, even if they don’t have room on their phones for them.

Nextel, the first US carrier to offer Java, hopes to deploy 1.3 million Java handsets. They are the best 2.5G network available today, offering an “always-on” connection. It’s good to see Java as a major part of their strategy.

Since Nextel’s focus is on businesses, they have created a cool Mobile Application Manager, allowing a company’s management to deploy MIDlets to every phone in the workforce. For example, if you have 1,000 salespeople in the field, you can push your custom-designed sales application onto everyone’s handsets, all from Nextel’s Web site. You can also license buckets of applications from a third party and throw them onto everyone’s phone. It’s like applying desktop license management to the wireless world. Quite cool.

AT&T Wireless will also have a 3.5 megabyte per second network by 2004. Most promisingly, they are exploring a DoCoMo-like approach to profit sharing for Java developers. That is, if your MIDlet becomes a hit, you will get a percentage of data transfer fees.

Cingular and Vodaphone executives also marched around the keynote stage and show floor, announcing a strong commitment to Java.

More importantly, some great new enhancements, specifications, and implementations of J2ME are in the works. MIDP 1.03 is on its way, with a 10% smaller footprint, optional over-the-air provisioning extension, and support for HTTPS. CDC 1.03 will have a faster interpreter and an exact-compacting garbage collector.

There’s a proposal for accessing Web services from J2ME — that is, fitting a tiny version of XML as a data protocol and SOAP as the communications protocol. There’s also a J2ME mobile media API in the works, which will bring small devices a common interface for dealing with streaming audio and video.

A bit further down the pike, MIDP 2.0 is looking neat. The public review specification is now available. MIDP 2.0 will be fully backwards compatible with MIDP 1.0, and offer a domain security model for signing MIDlets, better connectivity via sockets and datagrams, push architecture allowing a server to launch a MIDlet remotely and begin talking to it, strong over-the-air provisioning with the ability to know if a MIDlet’s download and installation was successful, enhanced UI, a full 2D game API, and a great sound API.

We’ll delve more into these new enhancements in future columns.

The other big bit of news was Project Monty, perhaps named after the famous quintet of naked Englishmen. Monty is a turbocharged version of the KVM. Sun hired Lars Bak, the guy who helped architect Hotspot, to design this new virtual machine. Monty starts up faster, conserves more battery power, and is 6- to 10-times faster than KVM 1.03. It was also created in a scalable, tunable fashion, allowing it to form the base for MIDP 2.0, with support for floating-point math, better graphics, and other goodies. I talked J2ME with Ken Tallman, Group Manager of Java, and of all the things happening in the Java Micro Edition space, he was most excited about Monty. After all, none of the other goodies will serve much purpose unless they can run quickly, solidly, and securely.

I’ve always been a pessimist when it comes to technology. I see the glass half empty, and cracked along its side, too. But all this talk about Java exploding on networked devices actually looks as if it’s going to happen. Who woulda thought?

About the Author

David Fox is the author of numerous books and articles about cyberculture and technology.

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