Sprint is the second U.S. carrier to offer Java to its customers as a way to download items like games to their wireless phones. Nextel Communications has been selling Java handsets made by Motorola to its business clientele since April.
Java is a software programming language and set of development tools created 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.
Sun has been pushing to put a form of Java, known as Java2ME, into cell phones and other wireless devices. While not meant to replace a cell phone software operating system, Java does let people download software. For instance, Nextel has one Java-based software download customized for building engineers.
Sun hopes its Java initiative will spread across the computing landscape so programmers will write for Java devices rather than Windows devices. At the same time, Microsoft is working to spread versions of Windows equally broadly to cell phones, set-top boxes, cars, servers and handheld computers.
Sprint would not comment on the applications it plans to have for the phones, which will be released to coincide with the company's upgrade of its cellular phone network to offer higher-speed, always-on access. Sprint will "light" the new network sometime in mid-2002, the company has said.
"We will make devices smarter, enabling consumers to download interactive applications to their wireless device regardless of location," said John Yuzdepski, vice president and general manager of Sprint PCS.
Tuesday's announcement gives more evidence to those arguing that handset makers are choosing Java over other, similar types of software, including BREW, or binary runtime environment for wireless. BREW was developed by Qualcomm. Microsoft's Stinger smart phone, which is in the works, also features a way to download software.
Analysts say Java is the clear leader in the race to win the hearts of cell phone owners thus far. Both Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo and Korea's LG Telecom have announced they will support Java in their phone networks. Research In Motion has put Java on two of its high-tech pagers.
In June, Nokia said it planned to add Java to 100 million phones by the end of 2003.