Every technology conference has its call to action, and the JavaOne Developer Conference taking place this week did not fall short as vendors here have rallied around the concept of building a new class of Java applications that can be delivered wirelessly to cell phones and handheld computing devices.
Developers attending JavaOne have heard that call, but many said they are putting on hold any plans to answer it.
“Hype always rules first,” said Shawn McKenna, a software engineer with Modesto, Calif., software maker Synovation Inc., which makes software for county criminal justice systems. “There’s been a lot of talk about wireless here. Wireless may be the future, but right now it’s just hype.”
Major telecommunication carriers, including Sprint PCS Group and Nextel Communications Inc., have generated their share of hype. Sprint delivered a new set of tools for Java developers to begin building applications that would be delivered to cell phones over the Sprint PCS 3G network, which is set to launch in the U.S. around June, executives from the company said.
Despite the push from carriers, with an initial focus on the development of consumer applications such as video games, enterprise developers attending JavaOne said they are cautious about enabling their corporate applications to be accessed over wireless networks.
Martin Hanf, managing director of Finance Online GmbH, a banking software consulting firm based in Zurich, said he has a number of concerns about the state of Java-based wireless technology that holds him back from recommending such technology to his customers, which include banks and insurance companies.
“Some of our customers have an interest in wireless, but I can’t say the level of security is ready,” Hanf said. “How do you prevent your data from getting in the wrong hands?”
Ashish Ahuja, a senior application architect for Kemper Insurance Co., based in Long Grove, Ill., shared a similar concern over the level of security available in the current wave of development tools.
“Security, I guess, is the biggest concern right now,” said Ahuja, who has been toying around with wireless application development for about three months.
The Java specifications enabling developers to build applications delivered over wireless networks to Java-enabled devices lack in security, some developers said. One sign that additional security support is needed is clear in the announcement from Sprint PCS regarding the new version of its wireless toolkit released here. The company has included its own set of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) in its tools that add additional security protocols for building wireless applications, according to John Yuzdepski, vice-president and general manager of SprintPCS.com.
Aside from security concerns, the cost of developing new corporate applications also poses a risk to quick adoption. The ongoing slump in the IT industry has not helped, Ahuja said.
“Because of budget issues we’re not doing any wireless development,” he said, reflecting on customer trends in the insurance industry. “If we can convince our customers that it will help in the field – for instance, allow claim adjusters to access data on a handheld – then we’ll do it.”
Simmule Turner, director of product development with finance software maker BancTec Inc., based in Dallas, has been intrigued by the wealth of wireless talk in the developer community, but has yet to see it trickle down to BancTec customers who would end up using the technology.
“We’re looking to see how we can use wireless in the enterprise,” Turner said.
Some ideas BancTec has tossed around include allowing engineers who monitor large banking systems or manage data to have information transmitted to wireless devices rather than having to sit behind a console all day, Turner said.
“The problem is we have to first show a bank that they’re going to get some kind of benefit from their investment,” he said.
Return on investment is one battle cry from Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM), which announced new support for Java on its BlackBerry device at JavaOne. During a keynote address on March 27 RIM Chief Executive Officer Jim Balsillie, detailed how support for Java in its products will allow its corporate customers to easily extend their applications to be accessed on the BlackBerry.
With nearly 13,000 corporate customers using BlackBerry devices inside the corporate firewall to access e-mail and send text messages, Balsillie said the promise of Java on small devices will only make it more enticing for the enterprise.
“We’re drinking water from a firehose of opportunity,” Balsillie said.