Sun Brews New Java Platform to Go

Apple’s iPhone App Store can seem just as crowded as the real-world Apple Stores can get during the holiday shopping season at your nearest mall. Developers are racing to provide applications that bring more multimedia and data to your phone of choice, and it’s that kind of growth that is prompting Sun Microsystems to introduce a new mobile version of its trailblazing Java programming language.

Sun announced its Java FX Mobile platform Thursday and also revealed an A-list of handset makers and related companies that are throwing their support toward the platform: Sony Ericsson, LG, Sprint, Orange, Cynergy Systems and MobiTV. The company says this ecosystem will result in more developers able to write new applications much easier for a broad range of mobile devices — “from mass market feature phones to smartphones,” in the words of a company press release.

“JavaFX provides new functionality for easily creating more immersive applications that seamlessly integrate content, media and data across device platforms,” said Jeet Kaul, senior vice president of the Client Software Group at Sun. “By delivering JavaFX Mobile on top of the wireless Java platform, Sun is now bringing expressiveness to the most pervasive and powerful platform in the mobile industry.”

Other industry players who are moving quickly into this space are no doubt paying attention: Market leader Adobe, with its ubiquitous Flash platform, and Microsoft, which wants to make its Silverlight Web/media technology a bigger part of its Windows Mobile architecture.

Developing for the Near Future

Sun isn’t banking on seeing near-term revenue boosts from anything related to Java. “Certainly Java is a minuscule part of Sun’s overall revenue stream,” Brent Bracelin, analyst with Pacific Crest Securities told TechNewsWorld. “It’s not a huge growth driver.”

The company, which counts on sales of servers and a proprietary OS for data centers for most of its money, simply wants to make sure its Java platform is a viable option for mobile app developers, said Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT. “It’s important for Sun to be engaging in new markets and with new developers, and to really be seen as a player and as a contributor in those areas. I think it’s critical to the company’s health going ahead,” King told TechNewsWorld. “Sun continues to be an extremely innovative enterprise-class server vendor, but the shift toward x86 server platforms is one of the things that’s degraded Sun’s position in the data center. I think it’s extremely important for Sun to explore, and become as relevant as quickly as possible, beyond its traditional customer base.”

Taking Java on the Go

Sun may not be making a lot of money off of Java, but its presence is already felt in the mobile space. The company says Java can be found in 2.6 billion mobile phones worldwide, and there are 6.5 million software developers writing for it. Steer more of them toward devices, and Sun can provide more of a challenge to Adobe’s Flash platform.

“Flash has tended to dominate this space, but a lot is going on with not only Flash but Microsoft and what it’s trying to do with Silverlight. The world world of mobile access to rich media content is still in its infancy,” King said.”It’s interesting to see how all these players are now jockeying for position.”

Part of that jockeying involves Sun luring developers with access to the JavaFX platform’s security features, and the kinds of solutions the company says people want on their phones, such as address books, Bluetooth and camera support and GPS/location services. Sun also says those looking to write apps for gaming will also find a friend in JavaFX.

“Coming up with a platform and making it easy, quick and inexpensive to come with an applications in such a competitive market is critical,” King said, especially in a challenging economic environment. “Developers don’t have the time or money to spend tens of thousands of dollars on apps.”

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