Sun, which developed the "write once, run anywhere" Java technology, today announced deals with NTT Docomo, a Japanese wireless services company with 23 million subscribers, and Symbian, a company that's working on next-generation software for smart phones and hand-held devices.
Initial products will be able to get information such as train schedules, stock quotes, or basic maps, said Curtis Sasaki of Sun's consumer and embedded division. Eventually, Sun foresees teenagers downloading Java games and people conducting banking transactions.
The Symbian announcement represents a symbolic victory for Sun over rival Microsoft, which could basically be locked out of phones from the three largest cell phone makers, say analysts. Overall, Microsoft's Windows CE--its operating system for smaller devices--has suffered from an image problem in terms of its technical capabilities, said Daya Nadamuni, technical software analyst with Dataquest, and has not made much headway in the market for cell phones.
Sun has made its way into the market by positioning its products as technology that helps get information from the Internet to the phones, and not as a replacement of the embedded operating system itself, Nadamuni said.
While the deal is a win for Sun, the company has run into trouble convincing Hewlett-Packard and others that Java will fit inside small and extremely price-sensitive devices.
"The difference between 20K and 40K is a big deal" to companies working on these small devices, said International Data Corporation analyst Sean Kaldor. As a program gets larger, the manufacturer has to add more memory to a device, which increases the cost.
Indeed, the version of Java that's part of the Sun-Symbian-NTT Docomo deal is stripped down with the ability to handle only text and limited graphics, Sasaki said.
NTT Docomo also plans to use Sun's "spontaneous networking" Jini technology to tie equipment into car dashboard computers, pagers, or personal digital assistants, as well as Sun's JavaCard technology, which can be used as a means of electronic identification.
The two Sun deals are memoranda of understanding, subject to future negotiations.
"We are definitely looking to make money from this along with Sun. Sun will receive a portion of money we get as royalties from our licensees," said Juha Christensen, executive vice president at Symbian speaking about its agreement to use Java technology in its Epoc operating system. "We cannot disclose the exact arrangement," he told Bloomberg.
"We charge $5 each for Epoc software used in mobile phone devices and $10 each for its use in palmtop computers," Christensen noted.
The third leg of the Sun-Symbian-NTT Docomo triangle was drawn on Monday, when Symbian and NTT Docomo entered into a research and development agreement so NTT Docomo can support new Symbian technology.
Symbian, owned by Motorola, Nokia, Ericsson, and Psion, is an important player in the smart phone market. Symbian is developing an operating system called Epoc, and last week Ericsson introduced the first product based on the technology, a Psion-built personal digital assistant with a small keyboard.
Alcatel, 3Com announce phone deal
In a similar alliance, Alcatel, Europe's No. 2 phone-equipment maker, said it will work with 3Com, which makes PalmPilot electronic organizers, to create devices that can act as both cellular phones and handheld computers. The agreement, unveiled at the Cebit technology fair, will initially combine Alcatel's cellular phones with 3Com's organizers to create a two-part communications device later this year. The companies will also develop software and equipment that can perform both functions.
"There's a move by a lot of players previously in the mobile phone area towards mobile data devices," said Adnaan Ahmad, an analyst at Merrill Lynch Europe in London who rates Alcatel shares "neutral." Alcatel "needed to do something with someone and 3Com [is] a player that understands the data aspect much more."
Alcatel is the world's fifth-largest maker of cellular phones after Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, and Matsushita Electric Industrial's Panasonic, Dataquest said in February. Santa Clara, California-based 3Com's Palm devices account for 72 percent of the handheld computing market, according to International Data Corporation.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.