Promising microBREW

Consider for a moment an application-development environment for cell phones created by a company that once made handsets and chip sets for cell phones and that now owns the patents for CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). Sound like a good idea? That’s BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) from Qualcomm Inc.

I discussed BREW with Jan Lezny, senior director of product management and developer relationships at Qualcomm. In its first iteration, the platform is targeted at CDMA carriers and the CDMA-enabled low-tier to midtier cell phones, not smart phones. In Europe, Qualcomm will pursue GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) carriers. This approach is based on the premise that you can put most of the PIM (personal information manager) capabilities users want on an inexpensive handset.

BREW can manage this because it knows how to take advantage of CDMA technologies, such as the Qualcomm-integrated circuits in a CDMA handset. In other words, BREW leverages the capability that already exists in the handset.

In addition to PIM functions, Lezny says, BREW will provide location-based apps using the GPS (global positioning system) capabilities of phones, instant messaging, and even multimedia – all without multiple processors and hefty OSes.

Webraska, in France, is using BREW to create a traffic-and-directions application, with maps, that is integrated with handset GPS. RocketMobile has a currency-conversion application.

The BREW platform allows developers to write applications in C and C++ natively, which I imagine is good news, but the most unique and best feature is how applications are deployed: over the air.

An ISV or corporate developer can send new apps and upgrades to multiple users. Imagine travelling the world and being able to flash in the currency conversion for your next country. If your handset is maxed out, BREW allows you to temporarily disable apps to make room for new ones.

Although BREW doesn’t grab as many headlines, I have reason to believe BREW might be far more successful than Microsoft Stinger OS or Palm OS, and it will have a far greater deployment on handsets than you might guess.

By choosing Stinger OS or Palm OS, carriers and handset manufacturers are tying themselves to the Microsoft or Palm worldview. If these companies change their OSes, then applications, hardware, and wireless services tied to them must change accordingly. With BREW, carriers are in charge. On the consumer side, carriers – not the ISV – will offer the applications, and there may be hundreds of applications for subscribers to swap in and out and pay for on a subscription or per-usage basis.

Handset manufacturers need not build expensive multichip devices, and they won’t have to pay heftier licensing fees because they need to use an Intel StrongArm processor.

The Brew Software Development Kit is available online at

Ephraim Schwartz ([email protected]) is an editor at large in InfoWorld (US)’s news department.

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