The real Java machine
Sun Microsystems is turning its Java virtual machine into just a plain Java machine on mobile phones. The company that supplies the underlying application platform for hundreds of millions of mid-range handsets and feature phones is looking to expand its reach further into the handset. It announced at its JavaOne Conference earlier this month the upcoming launch of JavaFX Mobile, a platform seeking to emulate the higher-order user-interface and middleware functions of the phone.
JavaFX sits on top of a Linux kernel, but unlike other Linux/Java operating system-based platforms, Sun is intending Java to pervade the handset. Currently, Java serves as a run-time environment for isolated applications that are downloaded, installed and then opened and closed depending on use. While several companies have begun more complex Java systems that interact with one another and run natively on the phone, Sun intends to take the process one step further, said John Muhlner, group manager for Java Micro Edition product marketing.
“JavaFX Mobile will be a complete vertical mobile solution — a complete software system including middleware,” Muhlner said. “From the beginning it is being designed to be network-connected and allow a seamless experience moving between applications.”
The platform may sound similar to Nokia's Series 60 or Sony Ericsson's UIQ, but Muhlner said Sun isn't targeting smartphones for the JavaFX solution but rather high-end feature phones, allowing carriers to custom design user interfaces (UIs) and vendors to build their navigation systems and UIs on a standard platform, which can easily incorporate third-party applications. The platform is akin to how Qualcomm is using UIOne to interface with BREW or Midas, the XML-based development platform created by Openwave (which partnered with Sun last year). Just like Java Micro Edition scaled down into more basic phones, Sun plans to scale JavaFX down through the feature phone ranks, targeting any device that can run a Java application.
Sun expects to see the first JavaFX-powered phones in the market by 2008, driven by carrier demand for more customizable phones and richer interfaces in the feature phone segment. In fact, the demand is already there. Muhlner pointed to the last wave of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) such as Disney Mobile and Helio, which have not only branded their own handsets but have custom-designed user interfaces around custom-built applications to fit their unique image and content strategy. That demand is not only increasing among the MVNOs but moving up the ladder to the larger carriers looking to distinguish themselves from other providers.
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