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Java to percolate in 100 million Nokia phones

In what some believe is the most ambitious effort yet to use Java in cell phones, the handset maker announces plans to sell 100 million phones using the software language by the end of 2003.

SAN FRANCISCO--In what some believe is the most ambitious effort yet to use Java in cell phones, handset maker Nokia on Tuesday announced plans to sell 100 million phones using the software language by the end of 2003.

Nokia also will sell its Communicator 9290, a personal digital assistant and cell phone wrapped in one, in North America, said Nokia President Pekka Ala-Pietila during a Tuesday address to the JavaOne Developers Conference in San Francisco.

"So far, you had to be a 'Charlie's Angels' to have this kind of phone," Ala-Pietila said.

A phone with Java lets someone download software that turns the phone into an MP3 player, minitelevision for watching films, or a portable device capable of accessing e-mails.

If Nokia goes through with its plans, the company may single-handedly increase the number of existing Java phones by a factor of more than 30. By most estimates, there are now just 3 million mobile phones enabled with a form of Java called J2ME, or Java2 MicroEdition.

Ala-Pietila said Nokia expects 50 million Java-enabled phones to ship by the end of 2002. The 100 million mark should be reached by the end of 2003.

Ala-Pietila's projections, which Sun Microsystems Executive Vice President Patricia C. Sueltz called "an extraordinary pronouncement," is the biggest statement yet of the cellular phone industry's push to put Java on cell phones and, in theory, more cash in their pockets.

Starting in June 2000, Sun, which created the Java language, began a concerted effort to convince the cell phone industry that it should begin installing Java on phones. So far, the industry has listened. Within the past two years, carriers from NTT DoCoMo in Japan to Nextel Communications in the United States have begun offering Java phones to customers.

What about the programs?
With Nokia putting such a heavy emphasis on the Java phone, the company is scrambling to develop programs that cell phone users will actually pay for.

Analysts think that with Nokia onboard, the development community may wake up and start programming.

A recent survey, taken by Evans Data, found that a third of all wireless developers intend to write applications that run on the form of Java being poured in cell phones.

In remarks made after his 45-minute address, Ala-Pietila tried to woo the 17,000 developers attending the show with a story about ring tones. In Finland, the revenue from downloading ring tones was greater than "all of the revenue of the two Finnish television stations combined," he said.

Carriers won't need such a hard sell. Some, like Nextel Communications, are already offering Java phones and services in North America. NTT DoCoMo in Japan has been offering a Java phone service for nearly a year. By the end of next year, there may be more carriers either testing or actually offering a Java service than those that don't, analysts believe.