Oct 12, 2009

So the future mobile Java…

About a year ago, I have blogged about the future of Java on the mobile which also triggered ideas whether Android is going to replace mobile Java. I can not tell if Android will be the only mobile Java platform in the future but I think it is going to be a major factor while defining the future mobile Java. So what does the future hold for mobile Java?

Nothing else is as certain on mobile development as the developers need to deal with different operating systems, programming languages and APIs in the future. Android applications will be developed mostly using the Android flavor of Java, iPhone will have Objective-C, Nokia will push Qt to Maemo and now open source Symbian, there will be Palm, RIM and of course Windows Mobile. All pushing its own programming language, API etc.. There will be fragmentation, or it will be labeled as choice and claimed that it is good. So the future mobile Java does not really have to think about the fragmentation, the fact that it is the same programming language is defragmantation already.

Curiously, developers do not seem to mind the diversity of development platforms on mobile as long as it provides the features needed for good applications. For years Java ME had been used analogous to MIDP and MIDP meant limited. Now that the JCP for Java ME is on a complete halt, MIDP will become obsolete. So the future mobile Java should be feature rich and extendible, much more than MIDP, at the level of what Android APIs provide.

And the open source thing. Nobody should have the illusion that my grandfather, an enthusiastic mobile phone user, will pull the Symbian or Android code and start fiddling with it. Most of the developers in the industry won’t do that either. Then how come open source matter to mobile platforms? The main reason is most mobile platforms are not enough to be competitive (iPhone is one of those exceptions). Adopters of the mobile platforms needs to develop differentiator features on top of them and sometimes add enablers to the platform for those features themselves. Collaborating on those easily is made possible with open source. Since the base platform is not really the differentiator then it makes more sense to share the cost of developing them. Today Java MIDP has a similar situation, MIDP platform itself is not competitive and it would make sense to share the costs of developing and extending it. So the future mobile Java should have a commercial friendly open source license and a community that allows open collaboration.

Java is the most familiar programming language. Familiarity with the programming language is a major factor for developers when choosing a technology for a project. Google Application Engine,  Google Web Toolkit and Android is a good demonstration of taking advantage of the Java programming language (as opposed to Java Platform). The ability to use the latest and the greatest language features, together with the APIs that are familiar to developers is an exceptional advantage for technology adoption. So the future mobile Java should include the latest language features, together with a larger enough subset of standard libraries that will allow developers to use what they are already familiar with.

I think without such a Java platform for mobile, mobile Java will cease to exist on mobile. Android will be the only platform that will be attracting the Java developers. I guess this alone should make the other mobile platforms and especially the Symbian foundation be interested with a new generation mobile Java. Symbian Foundation has not yet announced a Java Platform from Symbian foundation so we are yet to see their move but I think Symbian would possibly be a good host for a mobile Java environment.
This post is dedicated to Snoopy who had been part of the family for the last 16 years until last Saturday. Thanks for your friendship, sleep well.