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Nokia, Sun make multiplayer mobile game play

Cell phone game from Sega Mobile based on Sun's Java and Nokia's Snap could be beginning of new mobile software strategy.

SAN FRANCISCO--Multiple player reversi doesn't sound like much of an accomplishment--but a Java-based cell phone version of the game could be the beginning of a new mobile software strategy for Nokia and Sun Microsystems.

The game, developed by Sega Mobile and based on Nokia's Snap technology, is one of the first-ever cell phone programs to use both XML-based Web services, which allows software from different providers to work together, and "middleware," applications that sit between layers of other software and act as a translator. The game will make its debut this week at the JavaOne trade show here.

The one-two punch lets cell phones run several programs at once and download small amounts of software on the fly. Cell phone game players could pay a few dimes and download new scenarios for a favorite game, for example. Furthermore, it would allow IT managers to remotely diagnose and send a software cure to a problematic phone, Nokia executives demonstrated Wednesday during the show.

"We want to get this new kind of business model working," said Pertti Korhonen, chief technology officer of Nokia.

Sun is tying Nokia's Snap Mobile products for game distributors more directly into its wireless toolkit, as the two companies hunt for more developers. To that end, Snap will be integrated with Sun's Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition, Wireless Toolkit and Sun Java System Content Delivery Server and Java Enterprise System.

The piecemeal approach to selling cell software is brand-new. Currently, once games, ring tones or other cellular applications are downloaded, they can't be added to or upgraded.

However, analysts say it could be a while longer before the new approach becomes ready for the mass market. Nokia, Sun and others are still hammering out an official standard, called Java Specification Request 232, that will help manage all the different elements of the technology. In the meantime, software developers must either guess at the JSR, or delay parts of their work until 2005.