Qualcomm brews Java alternative for cellphones

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Qualcomm Corp. announced Wednesday the development of an open application platform for wireless devices that, it said, is a better alternative to Java for mobile telephones. The announcement, made in Tokyo, comes five days after the first cellphones with support for Java went on sale here.

Dubbed Brew, or binary runtime environment for wireless, the new system will be offered by Qualcomm initially to cellular carriers using its CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology, although the company is also in talks with GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) operators.

"We think that it will ignite a revolution in applications development and dramatically increase the pace of handset innovation," said Paul E. Jacobs, executive vice president of Qualcomm Corp., at a Tokyo news conference. "We believe Brew can have this impact because it solves fundamental issues facing developers, device manufacturers and carriers as they seek to bring the Internet to a vast array of wireless devices," he said.

Chief among the selling points of the system for developers is its support for the C and C++ programming languages. Applications for Brew are written in those languages and compiled -- something that provides for higher performance and reduces code size over interpreted code such as that used in Java, said Jacobs.

To create applications for Brew, Qualcomm will soon begin providing a software development kit (SDK) free of charge. The SDK, of which a beta version already exists, will be available in May.

"We're focused on building a third party developer community around Brew because we believe this creates a significant market opportunity for application developers," said Jacobs. "We see a primary function of Qualcomm as enabling the creativity of thousands of developers."

To this end, the company has established the Qualcomm Venture Fund, a US$500 million fund that provides money to developers working on new and innovative applications such as those running on Brew. Among some of the applications currently envisaged by Qualcomm that will be running on Brew are enhanced e-mail, mobile text chat, position location services, on- and offline games, Internet radio and streaming video.

Developers are not the only ones that will benefit from Brew, the company said. Once widespread, carriers will not have to wait for telephone manufacturers to build in support for their own proprietary new systems and technologies into their handsets. New services will be possible by writing new applications to run in the Brew environment.

That's important, said Masashi Onodera, executive vice president of DDI Corp., a major Japanese wireless carrier and the only one to support Qualcomm's CDMA technology in Japan. He admitted that handset shipments for its new services have been lagging behind the roll-out of those services.

"The major reason for this was new applications. At this point in time, they have to be programmed by handset manufacturers individually, therefore it all depends upon development of applications on the part of the manufacturers," he said. "At the same time, it also depends on the difficulty involved with software development and these have resulted in delays in handset shipments."

"Brew will resolve this problem," he said, because the handsets will not have to be reprogrammed for new services.

Carriers will also be able to offer advanced wireless services across a wider range of devices because Brew can run on all types handsets, including low-end models, because it requires just 100K bytes of memory and does not require sophisticated hardware support.

That also brings benefits for the user, said Jacobs. "What you will see is faster operation and more responsive applications ... the virtual machine with Java requires a lot of processing power because it is an interpreted environment instead of a native environment. The applications will run faster and we will also have richer, more complex applications running on top of Brew because you have deeper access to the functions in the phone."

The Brew system does away with the sandbox approach to security that Java uses, where applications are free to run in a protected area of the device. Instead, Brew applications will be certified error and virus free by Qualcomm and signed with a digital key so that devices can run software with no fear of rogue applications.

The company is moving fast to deploy Brew. Memorandums of understanding have already been signed with a number of wireless carriers including DDI Corp. in Japan, Verizon Wireless Inc. in the U.S., Korea Telecom Freetel in South Korea and Pegaso in Mexico. Major manufacturers including Kyocera Corp., which bought Qualcomm's handset business, and Samsung Electronics Inc. are also on board, the company said.

"We hope to see initial Brew enabled applications and services come available to subscribers here in Japan sometime this year," said Jacobs. DDI said it has not decided on a schedule for roll-out of Brew enabled handsets but expects them on the market by the end of this year.

The companies are already playing catch-up. NTT DoCoMo Inc. began selling a new range of handsets that support Java applets at the weekend and an initial batch of around 30 services, ranging from games to animated clocks to scrolling stock tickers is already available on the I-Appli service, a part of its hit I-mode wireless Internet service.

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