TI Readies Java Phones, PDAs

Kada Systems brings J2ME platform to company's low-end handsets; Sun adds to high-end devices.

In a deal with Kada Systems Inc., Texas Instruments Inc. is taking steps to bring Java capabilities to low-end phones. TI will use Kadas ready-made J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) platform on its TCS2100 chip set for low-end phones that will run on the upcoming GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks, said officials at the Dallas company. J2ME enables users to download Java applications from the Web onto the phone wirelessly.

TI is also working with Sun Microsystems Inc. to develop chip sets that will run J2ME on top of high-end phones with complex operating systems. The TCS2100 is a more embedded solution that is easier to develop in volume, officials said.

"Youre moving Java down to a pretty mass-market device, which by definition is less expensive," said Tom Pollard, worldwide director of chip set marketing at TI.

Potential customers liked the idea of being able to download applications to any wireless phone but said the capabilities of the chip set were only as good as the handset itself.

"Id be interested in downloading applications to my phone, but if the screens too small, Im sure I wouldnt bother," said Byron Seese, a multi-media designer in Somerville, Mass. "It would be too frustrating."

Kada uses specifications from Sun but not Suns source code, so Kada is not required to share its work with the Java community, officials said.

Officials said they have seen more of a demand for J2ME than for Qualcomm Inc.s BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless), which serves a similar function.

"BREW is neither Java nor [Microsoft Corp.s] .Net, and if youre not one of those things these days, its hard to build a community around you," said Jim Acquaviva, CEO of Kada, in Burlington, Mass.

Java phones based on the TCS2100 should be available in handsets by the third quarter, according to TIs Pollard.

Smart phones and wireless PDAs (personal digital assistants) based on the more complex TCS2500 should be out around the same time, Pollard said.

The TCS2500 is designed to run on devices with complex operating systems, such as Microsoft CE, Palm Inc.s Palm OS or Symbian Ltd.s Symbian OS. The TCS2100 is designed for a simpler device, but TI officials said that carriers and handset manufacturers want simple devices to perform complex operations.

Pollard said his biggest headache lately has been trying to appease carriers and handset makers, who dont always agree, while also trying to keep costs down. "It keeps me awake at night," Pollard said. "Sometimes, they dont know what they want. ... Its a fine line between being too customer-driven and staying ahead of the market."

The ability to play MP3 files is the most common request for phone chip sets, Pollard said, and that will be a priority for both low- and high-end products.