Nextel's Java jive

The company plans to debut the first Java-enabled cell phones in the United States.

Nextel Communications on Monday plans to debut the first Java-enabled cell phones in the United States.

One model, the i50sx, is priced at $150 and meant for the "price conscious" cell phone user. A second model, the i85s, is $200 and features a set of more advanced software applications written in the Java programming language.

Java is software developed by Sun Microsystems that lets programs run on a number of computing devices without having to be rewritten for each one. For example, the Java version of Sega's video game "Sonic the Hedgehog" running on a Motorola cell phone with an ARM microprocessor could run just as well on a BlackBerry pager from Research In Motion with a different chip.

Although the technological nuances will be lost to most cell phone users, what Java lets phone users do with their handhelds is expected to represent another step in the evolution of the mobile phone. But analysts aren't ready to pronounce the phones a success just yet.

"This technology will not become an important force in mobile devices," a group of industry consultants at Meta Group said in a report.

"Today's personal digital assistants lack the processing power and memory requirements to handle Java's large overhead. Even if someone built a cell phone with a 200MHz processor, cellular phones do not have the bandwidth to download huge Java applets," the analysts said.

The two new Nextel phones come preloaded with three different Java applications: Borkov Basic, a Tetris-like game developed by Sega; an expense pad that lets businesspeople tally their daily dole; and a calculator. Additional applications can be downloaded to the phone from Nextel's terrestrial Web site.

There will be more applications coming. Nextel says an estimated 1,200 developers have registered to write applications for the form of Java inside the Nextel phones, known as J2ME, Nextel said.

Nextel executives are expected to answer the processor-intensive criticisms and others when they formally introduce the phones Monday.

Java in a cell phone isn't new. Korea's LG Telecom introduced a Java-enabled cell phone in July. Research In Motion has put Java on two of its high-tech pagers. And Nokia smart phones, available outside the United States, began using Java applications this year.