Wireless Java Grows Up

With demand for applications up, developers look for ways to improve standards and get into devices.

As their interest in building and delivering wireless applications grows, Java developers are looking for enhanced standards to write to and an avenue to help get their applications into devices.

Through its Java Community Process, Sun Microsystems Inc. is working to beef up J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition), the key specification to which wireless Java developers must adhere.

At the JavaOne conference in San Francisco in March, Sun is expected to announce an upgrade to J2ME Mobile Information Device Profile, sources said. MIDP 1.0 is the current J2ME application environment.

And this week, 4thpass LLC, a Seattle-based wireless Java infrastructure company, will announce its MIDlet Alliance, which will allow developers to showcase their applications to carriers worldwide.

Randall Mitchum, director of technical development at Nextel Communications Inc., an early adopter of wireless Java-based phones in Reston, Va., said the next version of MIDP—known as J2ME MIDP NG, for next generation—will meet several developer demands. Mitchum, a member of the JCP expert group defining the specification, said key improvements will be made in the areas of user interface, security and permission models, and distribution functionality.

"Developers are looking for the capability to handle multimedia from within J2ME," said Bruce Hopkins, a Java consultant in Ford Motor Co.s Ford Credit Division, in Dearborn, Mich. "They are also looking for a way to access the built-in features and functionality of the phone like its phone book, calendar and voice dialing capabilities. The PDA Profile is the next version of the J2ME for PDAs [personal digital assistants], and it should be out some time this year. The same timeline also goes for [the] next version of J2ME for wireless phones."

Charles Ikard, executive vice president of HillCast Technologies Inc., a wireless Java application vendor in Austin, Texas, said he hopes to see new support for features "from multicasting to sound to [Secure Sockets Layer]. ... The first version of MIDP allows us to do connections but not secure ones." HillCast develops applications to deliver streaming real-time financial information to Java phones and PDAs.

Brian Levin, president of Mobliss Inc., a wireless Java application developer in Seattle, said lagging standards are a hurdle for Java development but wont hold back his company because the demand for wireless applications from carriers is too strong. Levin said he wants a standard that enables developers to build applications that take full advantage of the functions of the phone. Yet Ikard and Levin agree that developers need a forum to promote wireless Java applications to carriers.

To that end, 4thpass will provide mobile carriers with a software infrastructure that allows them to manage and deliver J2ME applications over the air to subscriber handsets.

"Carriers are struggling with finding good applications to deliver on their networks," said Javed Chaudry, director of the 4thpass MIDlet Alliance project. "Meanwhile, there is a huge development community doing wireless Java applications, but there is a disconnect."