A consortium of developers and wireless device manufacturers led by Sun Microsystems has created a standard for using Java-based software in mobile devices.
The standard, called the Mobile Information Device Profile (MIDP), will enable content developers to produce small programs in Java that will work on a large range of wireless devices.
"We have defined a set of APIs that you would expect to see in mobile devices like phones and personal digital assistants," said John Arnold, technology manager for Sun Microsystems, Asia-Pacific. "The idea is, if you're an application developer, you don't have to write it for a Nokia or a Motorola device or whatever, as long as it adheres to this standard it will work on all of those devices."
The MIDP standard has already been accepted for use in mobile phones manufactured by the likes of LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia and Siemens. According to Arnold, Java is likely to become very popular on wireless devices, despite the limited success of most wireless data projects so far.
"Java is a lot more user-friendly on mobile devices," he said. "When you're using Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) it can take you 40 clicks to get the information you want, and going through all of that on a mobile device is pretty annoying. [With the] small Java applications that you can download off the Internet, you can get a result in three or four clicks."
Arnold points to the success of Java downloads on Japan's NTT DoCoMo network, where more than 1.5 million people have subscribed.
Industry analysts have not met Sun and partners' ambitious plan for Java going wireless with the most enthusiastic response. After the relatively poor take-up of WAP, analysts at MetaGroup in the US have written the project off, claiming that Java works best on servers, not mobile devices.
"They have no idea what they're talking about," Arnold responded. "Performance is not a problem. Java is designed for small-footprint devices, and the client-server model works well."
"If you talk to developers and device manufacturers, they will tell you that Java is the only solution in this space."