Sun releases JavaFX Mobile platform

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems Corp. announced the availability of the JavaFX Mobile platform for developing and delivering Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) across a wide range of mobile devices, in an effort to build an “ecosystem” of applications that meet diverse consumer needs, said an executive.

Developers can now build RIAs using a common set of APIs for both the desktop and mobile platforms, enriched with high-fidelity audio and video, rich text, vector graphics, animation and Web services. JavaFX Mobile runs on Java Platform Micro Edition (Java ME) technology, allowing desktop and Web developers to optimize their applications for the form factor of a specific device, and for particular mobile capabilities, so they are “already pretty far along in delivering [their applications] to mobile devices,” said Param Singh, senior director of Java marketing with Sun Microsystems Corp.

“Our vision of providing a programming model that spans across multiple screens is one of the core fundamental changes versus development in the past,” said Singh.

The company is taking a different approach to the mobile environment, said Singh, by working with OEMs and operator partners to cover the entire device stack, including mass market and smart phones. “It’s really about how do we help build an ecosystem where there are hundreds and thousands of applications that meet the consumer needs” on a variety of platforms, said Singh.

While Sun will continue to focus on the high-end feature phone market, Singh said the company does recognize there is lots of growth in the lower end where those consumers, too, have demands for the same type of cross-platform access to their information.

And basing JavaFX Mobile in Java ME technology, said Singh, responds to operator and OEM partner demands for tighter integration and lowered costs by being able to build upon their investments in the existing Java ME stack. With other vendor platforms, he added, “you can build nice visual applications but then how do you tap into device capabilities? It’s at best a very difficult exercise.”

Rob Enderle, principal analyst with San Jose, Calif.-based research firm Enderle Group, said the difficulty for Sun in the mobile RIA space is that “they’re late to the game and other parties are already in place.” Reigning supreme is Adobe Systems Corp., whom even Microsoft Corp. has had trouble displacing, said Enderle.

But that said, the upside is that Java is one of those technologies that does play broadly in the mobile arena “and the idea of being able to use a Java derivative for a more graphically intense experience could be attractive to some developers,” said Enderle.

“Depending on how hard it is to move to JavaFX, some developers that otherwise might not even look at it at all, might be attracted to it,” said Enderle.

And as for focusing on the gamut of mobile devices from mass market to smart phones, Enderle noted that lower-end devices tend not to render a quality user experience on the browser, and that JavaFX won’t fix that.

“While [Sun] can certainly enable some of the phones to do more things,” said Enderle, “it’s up to the phone manufacturers to make it easier for the phones to do some of these things.”

Along with the release of JavaFX Mobile, Sun also announced partnerships with several handset manufacturers, service providers and ISVs, including Sony Ericsson, LG Electronics, and Sprint. While Sun has, in the past, expressed interest in having Apple Inc.’s iPhone support Java, the popular device was not one of those partnerships listed.

While Sun doesn’t yet count Apple as one of the partners, Singh pointed out that Sun has successfully demonstrated that JavaFX is capable of running atop Google Inc.’s Android, “so there are no technical hurdles for us to deliver the JavaFX and the Java stack on any platform, but we’ll take the cue from our partners.”

“So wherever they want to go, we will enable the stack,” he said.

This announcement follows the beta version of JavaFX Mobile released last December. Major differences from the early release include core functional changes to the JavaFX emulator, updates to the JavaFX production suite, optimizing the compiler, and fixing some 300 bugs.

While Sun has thus far focused primarily on the developer community, Singh said that focus will extend to interaction designers, whose very different needs are being addressed. Enabling the workflow from developer to designer is absolutely critical, he said, and “we will continue to extend that tool chain.”

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