Sun renews phone ambitions with JavaFX Mobile

The software and server maker is angling to rejuvenate the mobile-phone version of its Java technology with the release of JavaFX Mobile.

Stephen Shankland
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Sun Microsystems plans to launch JavaFX Mobile on Thursday, the second of a three-stage debut of technology it hopes will ease software design while modernizing its Java technology

JavaFX Mobile is a software layer that handles user interface elements such as graphics and animations on mobile phones. It's closely related to the JavaFX for desktops and laptops introduced in December and the JavaFX version for TVs that's still not released.

Sun's Param Singh
Sun's Param Singh discusses JavaFX Mobile. Sun Microsystems

Sun is also announcing a few partners it's lined up to endorse the technology: mobile phone makers Sony Ericsson and LG Electronics, mobile phone network operators Sprint and Orange, and software providers Cynergy and MobiTV. Param Singh, senior director of Java marketing at Sun, projects that JavaFX could ship in phones in late 2009 but certainly in 2010.

With JavaFX, Sun wants to make it easier to create Java programs with slick user interfaces. When the technology arrives, phone users will "see applications that look great, that are very expressive, but that also are very functional," Singh predicted.

With Java, Sun put Microsoft on the defensive and won over millions of programmers. But the technology now faces innumerable competitors--Microsoft's similar .Net technology among them--and plenty of other high-profiles challenges.

In the mobile area, Apple's iPhone doesn't support Java at all. Adobe is working on a version of Flash 10 for mobile phones. And Google's Android operating system uses a version of Java that strays from the official industry fold, called the Java Community Process. Nokia's got its Symbian operating system, too, and Palm is trying again with its own.

But Sun has more than a foothold. Java has had a decade to get established on mobile phones, and despite problems such as the fragmentation that means a given Java program won't necessarily run on a given Java handset, it's widely available. Sun estimates it's available on 2.6 billion phones.

Sun is aiming JavaFX at a broader market than the smartphone arena where much of the action is happening--basically, the "feature phones" that are a notch above the voice-only models at the bottom of the pecking order.

"We see growth in the feature-phone segment in emerging market. The growth in the U.S. and Silicon Valley is in the high-end smartphones that everyone carries, but that's not the majority of the world," Singh said.

JavaFX handles a number of chores for creating mobile phone applications, but it doesn't do everything. Sun also plans to announce that JavaFX Mobile can work hand-in-hand with its earlier Java Micro Edition technology when it's time to tap directly into mobile phone subsystems such as its Bluetooth communication technology, its camera, or its GPS location system.

Sun also is announcing that the JavaFX software development kit will include an emulator to test JavaFX Mobile software even without a JavaFX Mobile device.