The agreement last week to collaborate on future technology with ARM Holdings plc puts Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java a significant step closer toward becoming the dominant software program in wireless handsets.
Observers believe the agreement could accelerate the deployment of Java-enabled data and video services in wireless equipment designs, providing new functionality to reinvigorate the slumping cellular handset market.
"It looks as if Java is going to be the language of choice," said Chris Lanfear, an analyst at Venture Development Corp., Natick, Mass. "Everyone seems to be waiting for 3G [technology], but Java in some ways does a lot of the same things in regard to services and applications downloadable to a mobile device. It's absolutely the sort of thing that will get people to buy new phones and stir up demand."
ARM, a leading provider of embedded microprocessors, will license Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java 2 Micro Edition platform, and plans to port the software architecture to its Jazelle line of MPUs. The agreement will allow ARM to optimize its Jazelle processors for Java code and ensure full compatibility with the J2ME standard, said Reynette Au, vice president of corporate marketing at ARM in Cambridge, England.
"Java technology is indeed proving to be a key enabling technology for high-end applications, providing a powerful, interactive experience for end users," she said. "Rapid application development is also a driver in the formation of new-generation products."
In October, ARM introduced its Jazelle line with Java technology extensions for its ARM7 and ARM9 Thumb processor families. The new agreement will allow for adoption of J2ME throughout the ARM roadmap, Au said.
For Sun, ARM's stamp of approval could be a major development in its efforts to establish Java as the embedded software platform of choice against competing platforms like Wireless Application Protocol, Qualcomm's Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW), and Microsoft's 3#. ARM processors were found in about 75% of all handsets shipped in 2000, according to Dataquest Inc., San Jose.
"ARM is the pre-eminent provider in the industry, and they have now signed up for cooperation for accelerated Java in a fully certified form to all their chip licensees," said Rich Green, vice president and general manager at Sun, Palo Alto, Calif. "This agreement with ARM really provides a big boost in terms of the potential for applications that can be created."
Sun signed a similar agreement in October with Texas Instruments Inc., Dallas, the leading provider of DSPs to the handset market. TI announced it will port J2ME to its Open Multimedia Applications Platform for 2.5G and 3G handsets.
A spokesman for TI said applications and services using Java will run on both microprocessors and DSPs in wireless applications.
"We're excited," the spokesman said. "We work closely with ARM and believe an OEM will now be able to potentially enhance their overall solution. The Java code will run on a variety of different processors ... with specifically an ability to use DSP for multimedia code."
Venture Development's Lanfear said that while Java appears to be gaining momentum, there are some obstacles, and it's likely that wireless equipment will use a combination of Java and other programs such as BREW and 3G simultaneously.
Early Java-enabled handsets being used by Japan-based NTT Docomo have experienced problems associated with running Java applications, Lanfear said.
"I don't think we've seen enough of the Java chip solutions to know what all the problems may be," Lanfear said. "There are stumbling blocks. ... It'll take another couple of years to see [Java] deployed in any significant numbers."
Deployment of Java-enabled handsets could total about 23 million units this year. However, companies like Nokia have projected Java-enabled shipments in the hundreds of millions of units by 2004. OR