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Sun Illuminates Wireless Handset Platform

Sun Microsystems Thursday unveiled the roadmap for an initiative to create a complete platform to help vendors develop wireless services, such as messaging or gaming, for mobile phones.

Java Technology for the Wireless Industry (JTWI), also known as Java specification request (JSR) 185, the plan was hashed out by the Java Community Process developer's group in response to what mobile phone makers are saying is a need to have one cohesive platform on which to develop Java software.

The move is also a competitive response to Microsoft's burgeoning influence in the mobile platform sector. The major Sun rival, according to analysts, has come on strong in the past year with its own PocketPC, Windows CE or SmartPhone platforms. Industry experts say Microsoft assumes control of the hardware design, giving them more options with vendors -- something Sun and the JCP have yet to do.

JSR 185 aims to rectify that, Sun said. And, while it may not immediately solve the "write once, run anywhere" conundrum that Sun and Java developers have worked at for so long, it is a step in the direction.

JSR 185 clarifies how programming models work together to form a Java runtime environment that enables services on mobile handsets. The JSR 185 road map will allow carriers to better plan their application deployment strategy; let device makers to better determine their product plans; and offer content developers a clear path for their application development.

John Jackson, an analyst in the Wireless/Mobile Technologies unit at Yankee Group, told internetnews.com the JSR 185 was a necessary but insufficient step to address fragmentation issues in Java 2 Platform Micro Edition (J2ME) software development.

"It is an appropriate framework and is a very positive development for the future of J2ME, however is not a gurantee of success. The present construct of JCP is not serving J2ME. Things are moving to0 quickly for a process that takes 'X' many months to promulgate a JSR."

Here is the catch-22.

"But without it, you run the risk of proprietary implementations becoming institutionalized," Jackson said. "It compromises the openness of the platform and obfuscates adoption. It takes too long to get a JSR through. The world is not standing still."

As for Microsoft's entrance into the busy handset market, Jackson said it is too early to say what will happen.

"Do I think that persistent fragmentation of J2ME, in whatever version, leaves the door open for Microsoft? It is very, very early for Microsoft... but you can't count them out. Once we get a clearer articulation of the .NET compact framework, the competitive positioning will become more clear."

Whatever the background issues are, the need seems logical from a market perspective and wireless specialists, including Motorola, Nokia, Research In Motion (RIM), Siemens, Sony Ericsson, Symbian, T-Mobile, Vodafone and NTT DoCoMo, have fostered the JSR 185 effort.

After all, Sun said Java has rolled out on more than 50 million units all over the world, with hardware vendors shipping more than 80 models of Java-enabled handsets. Scores of users, particularly in Asia and Europe, are using Java-enabled phones for messaging, Web browsing, and multimedia activities such as listening to music or playing games.

To be clear, this is hardly the first endeavor in this niche. Related specifications, such as Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition (J2METM), CLDC 1.0 and MIDP 2.0, and application programming interfaces (APIs), such as the Wireless Messaging API and Mobile Media API have been introduced by groups within JCP.

Any combination of these technologies can be used on small devices and equipment with limited memory. But while these provide a programming environment they do not make clear how these technologies can be integrated to form a complete working method to ensure wireless services on handsets. That's where JSR 185 come in.

Philip Gilchrist, Vice President of PCS Global Standards and Technology Asset Management at Motorola, believes strongly in the benefits of the spec.

"The market for wireless devices will soon serve over 1 billion users, offering an unparalleled opportunity for application developers to invent value-adding services that make consumers lives fun and less complex," Gilchrist said. "Motorola's vision is that J2ME will be established as the OS independent application development environment of choice for the cellular industry. Motorola believes that JSR 185 is key to achieving this vision."

A specification that ensures the interoperability if JSR 185 is expected to be finalized in the second quarter of 2003. Devices that meet this spec should be available in the fall of 2003.