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Java Developer : Article

Is Mobile Java a Reality?

Some casual observations from JavaOne 05

"Java on mobile phones" has been the hottest topic at the JavaOne conference for the past several years. This year was no exception and a large part of the show floor was designated as the "Wireless Village." With tens of billions dollars' worth of Java phones and related services sold every year, Sun and many others are clearly making money. However, most JavaOne attendees I met were enterprise developers. Each year they ask the same questions: "How can I be part of the Java ME success?" "Will mobile Java ever create as many developer opportunities as enterprise Java?" The answers to those questions depend on whether the small and mid-sized businesses can leverage mobile Java to improve productivity and customer satisfaction as they successfully did with enterprise Java.

The answer to how mobile Java can improve productivity lies in integrating mobile phones into enterprise information systems so employees gain real-time knowledge about the business while they're away from their desk. As an example, mobile e-mail on BlackBerry Java devices drives the business in many companies, especially sales and services departments. To illustrate applications beyond mere mobile e-mail, Sun released a mobile phone-based JUICMIDlet (JavaOne User Information Console) application for this year's JavaOne attendees (see Figure 1). JUICMIDlet stored the entire JavaOne session schedule and detailed information for each session on each attendee's phone. This replaced the heavy 200-page book folks used to carry in their backpacks. Right from the phone you can browse sessions based on categories and see their details. If you see an interesting session, you can then add it to your schedule. Just before the scheduled session is due to start, the phone would alert you with flash and sound. In addition, JUICMIDlet downloaded the latest conference news and key JavaOne blogs onto your phone. What's neat is that JUICMIDlet doesn't even require you to have data services on your phone - the application deployment and content updates are all done via Bluetooth on the show floor.

Considering JUICMIDlet's architecture - it already has many of the key elements of enterprise mobile applications: always-on, pervasive, and facilitates information flow. This is similar to the type of app that could be used by folks in field services, sales, or marketing. By building JUICMIDLet, Sun has demonstrated that this type of mobile app is feasible on the vast majority of mobile phones on the market. It also got me thinking about ideas regarding the potential to improve JUICMIDlet using currently available technology.

  • Include a more comprehensive set of conference events updates such as show floor vendor presentations, Java.net information, or vendor parties. This could be done with a Web service API on the back end for all vendors to publish their events to.
  • Send questions to the speaker in the Q&A session of a 1,000-person standing room session via SMS or voice.
  • Feedback surveys from your phone allowing you to fill them out during the session.
  • Bluetooth sensors to detect your location in the conference center and provide directions to your next session.
  • Borrow an idea from the Nokia Sensor application and allow attendees to publish their own profiles on the phone via Bluetooth. You'll be able to find out who's who in your vicinity during a gathering and strike up a conversation.
In addition to enterprise applications, mobile entertainment consumer apps are another usage of mobile Java. This is already a multi-billion dollar business and still growing. A significant hurdle, however, to the adoption of mobile Java games is that most consumers are unaware of what games their phones are capable of running. Also, the business model relies on consumers buying cheap games often. Offering trial downloads for every $5 game is not economic for game developers. In this year's JavaOne Wireless Village I found a perfect solution from mpowerplayer (www.mpowerplayer.com).

The mpowerplayer product is a Java mobile phone simulator for regular computers that runs on the standard Java environment (JDK 1.4) over Java Web Start. It allows consumers to run mobile Java games on their PC or Mac through a regular Web browser. Consumers can learn about the graphic quality, user experience, and game play of the game on their PC before making a purchase. The developers have very little work involved to repackage the existing mobile Java game for mpowerplayer. The Texas Hold'Em poker contest on the show floor was how many JavaOne attendees got a taste of the quality of mobile games firsthand. Many users I talked to felt that the graphics quality was good enough even for playing on the PC screen, let alone a mobile phone. I strongly urge you to play some free trial games from mpowerplayer.com on your PC and see how far mobile phone games have come! Figure 2 shows "Prince of Persia" running on the mpowerplayer.

JUICMIDlet and mpowerplayer are just two examples of interesting mobile Java applications at JavaOne 05. Nokia and Motorola also had an array of exciting new Java devices on display in their booths that I can't wait to get my hands on! Nokia announced support for the Java ME CDC (Connected Device Configuration) profile on their popular Series 60 devices (25 million units shipped). Since the CDC is close to Java SE and supports much more API than MIDP, it opens up fresh opportunities for both mobile developers and users, especially for the enterprise applications. Sun also released support for the Nokia SNAP API for multi-player mobile game servers in the Wireless Toolkit |package. This is an important step for mobile game developers to leverage Nokia's advanced mobile game infrastructure and player communities. All in all, JavaOne is definitely an exciting place to be for mobile Java developers.

More Stories By Michael Juntao Yuan

Michael Juntao Yuan is a member of JDJ's editorial board. He is the author of three books. His latest book, "Nokia Smartphone Hacks" from O'Reilly, teaches you how to make the most out of your mobile phone. He is also the author of "Enterprise J2ME" - a best-selling book on mobile enterprise application development. Michael has a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. He currently works for JBoss Inc. You can visit his Web site and blogs at www.MichaelYuan.com/.

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