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TI licenses Java

Sun's Java software would be used in devices such as "smart" phones and pagers offering computer-like functions including email and Web browsing.

Texas Instruments (TXN) today said it has licensed Sun Microsystems' (SUNW) Java software for use in devices such as "smart" phones and pagers that will offer rudimentary, computer-like functions including email and Web browsing.

The plans come after Texas Instrument's (TI) Wireless Communications Business unit inked a deal to use Sun's PersonalJava and EmbeddedJava software.

TI says that by using Java with its digital signal processors (DSPs), cell phones could download localized maps as a customer moves about in a city, for instance, or real estate agents could display photos of available homes.

DSPs are chips designed to boost the performance of specific computing tasks such as communications or audio processing. TI is investing heavily in DSP technology after eliminating unprofitable operations such as a group that was working on Pentium-compatible processors and a division that made notebook PCs.

TI says it will run Java on a single chip which integrates the DSP and another processor.

Analysts expect TI to eventually offer a chip which would include the ability to execute Java code directly with no special "interpretation" required, offering better performance.

Cell phone maker Ericsson and Nokia are two TI customers who could potentially use Java to offer email, Web surfing, and even GPS (global positioning system) capabilities, according to Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts.

"The real need for Java is where you have devices that are fairly limited in storage capacity and memory size," says Strauss. If a device needs to change programs and there isn't the storage capacity to do so, Java will offer the ability to do so, according to Strauss.

Two different versions of Java have been licensed for use, depending on what kinds of communications products are being designed. Sun says PersonalJava has been designed primarily for devices with small displays and keyboards, while EmbeddedJava has been designed for devices that have a character-based display or no display at all, such as pagers and fax machines.

"Plans to use Java are still in the early stages...The wireless industry would like to be able to use Java for all the obvious reasons, but it isn't easy taking a product that isn't there yet to put it [Java] into a small bandwidth-efficient device," says Alan Reiter, president and editor of Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing.

Northern Telecom, for instance, plans on releasing a Java-based cell phone in Europe in the first half of 1998, Reiter says, and TI could conceivably offer Java capabilities in some handheld communications devices it is working on as well.

The problem, as Reiter sees it, is that "We are getting into the area of the crashable phone and rebootable pager because obviously there are going to be some tradeoffs between the limited-function but rock-solid phones of today and the multifunction 'smart' and perhaps gelatinous perating systems of these newer devices."

Java might not be popular in the traditional cell phone simply because people aren't used to rebooting a phone, whereas a multifunction communications devices that look like a cross between a cell phone and a handheld PC may be more popular, according to Reiter.