Nokia sees progress next year for mobile apps

Nokia Corp. expects work to be wrapped up early next year on a new Java standard that should make it easier to manage business and consumer applications on mobile phones and other wireless devices, Nokia's chief technology officer said Wednesday.

The standard, which is being developed by Nokia, Motorola Inc. and others, includes new management capabilities that should make it easier to deliver applications and software updates to mobile phones, troubleshoot problems remotely, and set access policies for corporate users, said Pertti Korhonen, Nokia's CTO, in a speech at JavaOne Wednesday.

For example, if a user wants to download a new game to his phone and doesn't have the right codec, the new Java standard will let developers package the codec and the game together and deliver them to a user at the same time, installing them while the phone is still running, Korhonen said.

The standard will also provide operators with more information about a user's phone, including the hardware profile, the software installed on it, and "live" statistics such as how much memory is being used. Operators will be able to find the cause of problems more easily and deliver software updates to fix them, Korhonen said.

Essentially, the new standard will provide operators and network managers with some of the same remote management features that are available today for PCs and servers, Korhonen said. "Your phone becomes just like any other node on the network," he said.

The capabilities are part of Java Specification Request 232, which is led by Nokia and Motorola and supported by Vodafone Group, NTT DoCoMo Inc., PalmSource Inc., IBM Corp. and others. It was started about a year ago and originally scheduled for completion about now, according to the Java Community Process Web site, which means it will be several months late when it arrives.

"We hope to have (the) standard completed and published around the first quarter of next year," Korhonen said. Nokia is also working on middleware that should make it easier for developers to link handheld devices like its 9500 Communicator with backend business applications. Such middleware is more commonly found on servers. "Any of you heard of middleware on the client? That's the new thing," Korhonen told developers in his speech.

About 250 million Java-enabled handsets are in use worldwide and the number is growing by 50 percent a year, Korhonen said. Java handsets have been deployed by 108 mobile operators, providing a fertile market for developers and content providers to make money. "It's all about volumes," he said.

JSR 232 should help solve some of the problems involved with updating Java software on phones, something that's currently tough to do once devices are in the hands of users, said Erik Stell, of the National Federation of Independent Business, or NFIB, an advocacy group for small businesses.

Stell, who develops Web applications by trade, was thinking of writing games for mobile devices in his spare time, and he said Nokia looks like a good platform to target because of its broad reach. At work, however, his company has standardized on Research In Motion Ltd.'s Blackberry devices, he said.

Separately this week, Nokia said it has updated some of its tools to work with Eclipse, the open source Java development environment founded by IBM. They include a version of its Nokia Developer Suite for J2ME and its Mobile Server Services SDK. They're available now to members of Forum Nokia Pro, and will be released to the wider Forum Nokia community next month, it said.

It also said it plans to integrate its Snap Mobile technology for multiplayer games with Sun's Wireless Toolkit early next year, giving developers another option for developing multiplayer games for wireless devices.

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