If you hear the familiar blips and bleeps of PacMan from the guy sitting next to you on the subway, he may have just found another use for his cell phone.

Games are one of the potential applications for Java-based cell phones that are just beginning to edge into the North American market. Motorola Inc. has launched Java-enabled phones in the U.S. through carrier Nextel Communications Inc. and the Canadian market should open up with GMS-GPRS networks from Microcell Telecommunications Inc. and now Rogers AT&T Wireless. (At press time, Rogers AT&T was scheduled to launch its network July 1.)

Finnish cell phone powerhouse Nokia Corp. has already made available its latest Communicator device (a cell phone with flip-top screen display), the 9210, in Europe and parts of Asia. As per the trend of European and Japanese markets leading the way in telephony, North Americans will have to wait up to a year for the devices.

The Nokia 9290 (effectively the same as the 9210) should be here in the first half of 2002. During Sun Microsystems Inc.’s annual Java developers’ conference, JavaOne, held in June, Nokia president Pekka Ala-Pietila, said the company will sell 50 million Java phones in 2002 and 100 million by the end of 2003.

Yuri Rebello, director of engineering for Nokia Canada, described the 9290 as “the desktop in your pocket” – the same tagline that Microsoft ascribed to its Pocket PC handheld devices when they launched more than a year ago.

The 9290 Communicator will include some of the same functionality as the Pocket PC, such as the viewing and editing of Microsoft Word and Excel documents. It will also feature applications like e-mail, calendaring and Internet access over a WAP or HTML browser, said Rebello.

Embedded Java will allow users to download, over the air, programs from games to enterprise apps. “Java is really an enabler . . . for new applications to the end user. Java offers a whole range of possibilities such as personal information, corporate applications, high security, games, maps, those kinds of things,” said Rebello.

Nokia has reached an agreement with Borland Software Corp. to allow the estimated two million Java developers worldwide to create applications for Java phones. The Jbuilder MobileSet features Java tools and cell phone emulators.

According to Yankee Group in Canada senior analyst Jeremy Depow, Java may represent the next wave of mobile computing for cell phones. “It’s definitely a necessity for handset makers to put those kind of applications in their handsets,” he said.

“When we look at the handset market now without those types of applications, we’re very limited in what we can do. So to trigger more use of wireless data services, you need these kind of programs.”

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