Mobile phone vendors jump on Java

With the world's three largest mobile phone suppliers readying Java-enabled handsets for release as early as the first half of 2001, Java looks set to make inroads into the red-hot wireless arena.

          With the world's three largest mobile phone suppliers readying Java-enabled handsets for release as early as the first half of 2001, Java looks set to make inroads into the red-hot wireless arena.

          Once mobile phones incorporate Java, users will be able to customise and personalise their handsets as they wish by downloading applications, company officials say.

          Motorola and Nokia are leading the way. At Comdex in Las Vegas Motorola showed off a handset featuring Java designed for its iDen (integrated digital enhanced network) mobile phone standard used by operators such as Nextel Communications. The iDen handset is scheduled to ship early next year, and by 2002 all Motorola phones could feature Java, says Rajiv Mehta, manager of strategic marketing at Motorola's iDen Subscriber Group.

          Motorola later plans to incorporate Java in its other handsets, including those for GSM (global system for mobile communications) networks, Mehta adds. GSM is the world's most widely deployed mobile network technology.

          Nokia, meanwhile, also expects to ship its first Java-enabled handsets in next year's first half, says Pekka Isosomppi, communications manager at the company. The first Nokia handsets featuring Java are likely to be high-end models such as the company's 9110 Communicator model, he adds.

          Several Japanese handset makers are also readying Java handsets designed for NTT DoCoMo's I-mode, the world's largest mobile internet service. The first Java-enabled I-mode handsets are expected to roll out over the next few months.

          With downloadable Java applications, users will be able to customise and personalise their handsets according to individual needs.

          "We see an analogy with the Palm model," says Motorola's Mehta, referring to the many applications that independent software developers have made available for handheld devices based on Palm's Palm OS. "Customising the handset by downloading applications to it is a real benefit."

          Another advantage for the user: there is no need to buy a new phone every time a new feature comes out. "Just update the software," says Mehta.

          "Java is graphical and dynamic. It will get more users than WAP (wireless application protocol), because WAP is difficult to use," saysGerry Purdy, president and chief executive officer at consulting company Mobile Insights.

          Ericsson, meanwhile, is taking a more "conservative position" on adding Java to its handsets, saysSkip Bryan, director of technology marketing for Ericsson in the US.

          Nevertheless, Ericsson is readying an advanced handset based on Symbian's Quark reference platform that will incorporate Java, Bryan says, although the company has yet to commit to a shipping date for the product.

          "We are paranoid about crashing phones," says Bryan. "Adding features to a phone is a dilemma. Can we do it over the air without an hacker coming in?"

          Motorola's handsets will feature J2ME (Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition), a compact version of Java, the platform independent programming language developed by Sun Microsystems. The handsets will have between 600K bytes and 700K bytes of additional flash memory to store applications, said Mehta.

          Some analysts, however, think that the vendors are unlikely to be able to agree on using a standardised flavour of Java. Such a scenario could well lead to a fragmented market for applications, they believe.

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