A year after launching its Java.com Web site, Sun Microsystems Inc. is still searching for new ways to turn the Java brand into gold with consumers. If the company has its way, “Java Powered” logos will soon start appearing on everything from mobile phones to microwaves.
Perhaps the most outlandish move in Suns consumer branding push in the mobile device space is its sponsorship of an upcoming television series in Europe. Gamer.tv, a producer of television programming on interactive technology, signed Sun to sponsor “Mobile Entertainment World,” a 26-episode TV show dedicated to mobile telephone games and entertainment software.
Shows will feature programs like the ringtone remixing package Sun President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz showed off in his keynote at JavaOne last month, “as well as offer unusual items such as a look at the social phenomenon of text dating,” according to a Gamer.tv press release.
The “Java Powered” campaign got its start at JavaOne, as troupes of street performers accosted people as they walked down the street to tell them which of their devices were running Java. In his keynote there, Schwartz explained the goal of the campaign this way: “We want the Java brand to start to mean This lets you do more.”
That goes a bit further than what Java has meant to most developers. But its the definition of Java that Sun has applied to its Java Desktop System, according to Tom Herbst, senior brand strategist at Sun. “When consumers see the name Java, they understand that has stuff that makes it work better on the Internet.”
In the case of Java Desktop System, or JDS, some small fraction of that stuff is actually Java. JDS does include J2SE (Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition) and some recently open-sourced component technologies that make it easier for developers to build Java desktop applications that integrate with the local operating system. But most of its functionality comes from applications (including StarOffice, Mozilla, and the Evolution mail client) that were written in something that decidedly isnt Java.
“The title is somewhat misleading,” said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director of Jupiter Research, in an interview with eWEEK.com. ” Its a vestige of Suns more ambitious days, when the company planned to do a whole desktop environment in Java.”
Critics say that some of Suns liberties with the Java name are straining relationships with the rest of the Java community. “The branding is good for Sun,” said Gartenberg. “But some of their partners are going to feel intentionally disenfranchised. It dilutes their own branding efforts.”
That isnt the case with Suns mobile phone partners, at least. Mobile service providers Sprint, Vodafone and SingTel have all signed up as “Java Powered” partners, and a number of mobile phone manufacturers, including Nokia, are enrolled in Suns “Java Verified” program.
“Java Verified” certifies a basic level of compatibility for J2ME (Java 2 Platform, Mobile Edition) applications, and earns verified applications the right to sport Suns “Java Powered” logo. The program has been welcomed enthusiastically by Nokia and others. “It gives consumers the confidence that the software is going to work on their phone,” said Nokias manager of Java applications, Victor Brilon.
As for the phone makers themselves pasting Java cups on their handsets, the verdict is still out. “The Java Powered logos are really more for consumer products like microwaves for now,” Brilon said. “It hasnt really caught on with the mobile vendors yet.”
Its clear why Sun wants to capitalize on the Java brand name—its better recognized than Suns corporate brand. “As of last year, approximately 70 percent of people in the U.S. and 80 percent in Asia were aware of the Java brand,” said Herbst. In comparison, Sun itself has less than a 10 percent recognition rating among consumers.
The brand practically advertises itself. According to Herbst, the Java.com Web site draws more than 9 million unique visitors a month. “We could spend millions on a Superbowl ad and not get the kind of exposure we get for a fraction of that price [running Java.com],” Herbst said.
It still remains to be seen whether Sun can really leverage this fame into riches. But its clear that if the company can actually get consumers asking for Java by name, that demand could filter all the way up to the enterprise market. And there wouldnt be much reason for Java developers and Suns Java Community Process partners to complain about that—even if Sun somehow manages to get a bigger share.