Sun announces Java technology for wireless

Sun Microsystems, in conjunction with several partners, announced Tuesday that it has a new Java-based protocol to bolster content on wireless devices.

Sun, based in Palo Alto, Calif., said its Mobile Information Device (MID) profile will enhance personal access to content such as local weather and stock quotes on wireless devices by allowing better graphics and more interactive features. The open-source, standards-based protocol will work for any device programmed with the MID profile.

Several U.S. and international providers helped develop the MID profile. Some said in a press conference Tuesday that they would begin offering MID-enabled wireless devices as early as the end of the year.

The new MID profile allows wireless devices to download Java applications from the carrier with far fewer memory requirements than an Internet Java application would require, Sun officials said.

The MID profile also works with the carriers’ satellite tracking capabilities to provide location-based content. For example, the weather report provided is for the area where the wireless device is located, as opposed to a user’s fixed “home” preference.

British wireless provider One 2 One, Taiwanese provider Far EasTone and Telefonica Mobile of Spain all participated in Tuesday’s conference and lauded the new application.

Though Sun is marketing this as a lifestyle offering, for U.S. enterprises, the new Java-enabled content will mean better access to foreign customers, said Tim Scannell an analyst at Mobile Insights in Quincy, Mass.

According to a recent study, “70 per cent of Spain uses a cell phone as a primary phone,” Scannell said. U.S. carriers can also use foreign markets as a testing bed, he said, until more wireless users in the United States start to access messages and content.

“The United States is way behind,” Scannell said, in part, because Americans are leery of a wireless device’s ability to track location – the function that is viewed as a boon to wireless devices and applications in Europe.

In Sweden and Spain, for example, users like the idea that that they can push a button on their wireless devices, allowing the police to locate them in an emergency, Scannell said.

The opposite holds true for Internet surfing, where many European countries often block U.S. business and consumer transactions that don’t have the same privacy safeguards that those countries do. This summer, the European Parliament debated and rebuffed privacy standards proposed by a consortium of U.S. companies.

Other impediments to U.S. users accessing wireless content are the lack of a single rate for all kinds of wireless access (data and voice) and the lack of a standard wireless protocol among carriers.

The companies that helped create the MID profile for Java are America Online Inc., Wind River Systems Inc., LM Ericsson Telephone Co., Espial Group Inc., Fujitsu America Inc., Hitachi America Ltd., J-Phone Tokyo Co., Matsushita Electric Corporation of America (Panasonic), Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Motorola, NEC USA Inc., Nokia, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.’s DoCoMo, Palm Inc., Research In Motion, Samsung Electronics America Inc., Sharp Electronics Corp., Siemens AG, Sony Corp., Sun, Symbian and Telecordia Technologies Inc.