RIM opens up to J2ME

Research In Motion Monday introduced a Java 2 Platform developers’ environment for its flagship handheld device and, in doing so, took another step towards falling in line with competitors, according to a Toronto-based analyst.

Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) introduced the BlackBerry Developer Environment for the Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition (J2ME) and, with it, opened up the BlackBerry platform to a developer community that’s three million strong, according to RIM statistics.

Mark Guibert, vice-president of brand management at RIM, explained that because Java is common in the development world and Sun Microsystems Inc. has developed the J2ME, it allows companies to employ Java end-to-end, from server to handheld device.

“(J2ME) is wireless friendly and has a small footprint and enables the application to run with less bandwidth than would be required with a hard-line network,” he said. “There’s a number of variables that make it wireless friendly, but basically, you have the same set of standards that can integrate with the backend Java systems as well. It’s open, so that software developers can leverage their investment in applications across multiple devices.”

The development environment functions as a simulation tool for BlackBerry that uses Sun’s J2ME guidelines and features BlackBerry’s touted ‘always on’ connectivity, push technology, end-to-end security, integrated keyboard and back-end integration. Guibert explained that it took a year to make this announcement with Java because the platform has been undergoing a complex process to make it an open standard.

But IDC Canada’s Warren Chaistatien said even with complex announcements like these, the battle for dominance in the handheld computing department is still embryonic.

“They (RIM) know they are fighting with quite a few players out there and one of the key ones is Microsoft with their .Net initiative,” Chaistatien said from his Toronto office. “I think these two camps (Sun and Microsoft) are competing for dominance to become the universal platform and I think RIM is aware of that competitive threat from Microsoft which is looming and real.”

He said that because of that market “threat,” RIM is gravitating towards Java almost as much as cellular phone manufacturers. He added RIM still sees the BlackBerry as an always-on, unique device, but because others like Palm are doing all that RIM is doing along with the desktop applications, it may soon have to take another look at its diminishing competitive uniqueness.

“Also, I don’t know how fast Java developers would embrace desktop applications, for example, Microsoft Word, because RIM is positioning its device as an always-on e-mail to access all corporate applications. But what it is missing is that it does not emphasize the ability to access the front-end applications that people are using everyday, like Microsoft Office applications,” Chaistatien said. “Even with this release, I don’t think they addressed it that much.”

Guibert said the move opens up BlackBerry to allow for a broader range of applications, but still manages to remain unique in the implementation of BlackBerry as a secure, wireless viewer into the corporate network.

“All the infrastructure on the backend of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server software, plus the unique device characteristics, enable that secure viewer into your corporate network,” he said. “Java is the common denominator that allows access to other applications.”

This J2ME environment facilitates the building, testing and debugging of BlackBerry applications, including facilities for code profiling and optimization. The environment includes a BlackBerry handheld simulator that has a full copy of the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) to allow developers to monitor their performance and includes a network simulator that provides HTTP connectivity.

The BlackBerry Development Environment for J2ME supports Mobile Information Device Profile (MIDP) and Connected Limited Device Configuration (CLDC), which the company said is industry standard for Java on small form-factor devices.

“This announcement isn’t really new, but it strengthens their position of Java as a handheld platform,” Chaistatien said. “With this, you will be able to deploy a lot more applications on your RIM device because Java is open and there is a community of three million developers out there. Java is key as an interface that would reconcile between your existing corporate applications and mobile form factors.”

RIM had a big day on Monday, announcing the development environment and its introduction to the Asian market with the BlackBerry 58-20, the same BlackBerry that is available in Europe. North Americans use the BlackBerry 58-10. Both are supported by the same BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

Research in Motion Ltd., based in Waterloo, Ont, is at http://www.rim.net

IDC Canada, based in Toronto, is at http://www.idc.ca