RIM bets on Java to unify wireless market

TORONTO — The adoption of Java2 Micro Enterprise Edition will end the platform fragmentation that threatens the long-term sustainability of the wireless industry, Research In Motion’s president told the Comdex Canada crowd Wednesday.

In the three-day conference’s opening keynote address, Mike Lazaridis said the company sees Java as the standard that will unite the software development community for mobile devices. He also offered a sneak peek at the software behind the European version of its popular BlackBerry wireless pager, to be offered later this summer. The European BlackBerry, which already uses the Java KVM as its operating system, will hit the market via an agreement RIM announced last month with BT Cellnet.

Lazaridis said the BlackBerry will comply with J2ME’s Mobile Information Device Profile Interface (MIDI) and said that MIDIlets will be to RIM what applets are to Web browsers.

The company’s endorsement of J2ME has been reinforced by the experiences of RIM’s internal developers, Lazaridis added. “I could request a feature in the morning and it was implemented in the afternoon,” he said, adding that the platform also offers the increased security features important to many IT managers.

“It’s interpretable code. You’re not giving up byte code control of the processor.”

Lazaridis said he was aware of Java’s reputation for slowing down the performance of applications, but he held up the European BlackBerry as the device that would change IT manager’s minds. “We need something built for complexity,” he said, pointing to the many recalls of general packet radio service phones. “This (BlackBerry) runs Java, and is very fast. If you program properly, speed isn’t an issue.”

The sheer range of devices that have come of age since RIM launched the first BlackBerry has divided the software makers, he said. “You’ve got all this fragmentation — cell phones, PDAs, pagers,” he said. “It’s difficult to build a development community with such a variable user interface.”

The software included in the European BlackBerry will allow software assurance staff to write scripts to analyze code, and will provide increased profiling capability. “We don’t have a lot of memory on these things. It’s important to know where you’re spending your time,” he said.

While both Microsoft and Vodafone are planning to launch an e-mail forwarding service over wireless application protocol (WAP) phones, Lazaridis called WAP a failure. Like dial-up e-mail access, Lazaridis said WAP falls flat because it is essentially pull technology which forces users to do the work.

“Surfing the Web using a WAP phone . . . that’s not something you’re looking forward to,” he said.

Wireless e-mail, on the other hand, allows users to passively receive information they need.

“You put it on your belt or in your pocket, and you forget about it — until it beeps.”

Lazaridis named long battery life, low latency and a minimal airtime cost to consumers as his three commandments of mobile device manufacturing. What he failed to name was any compelling push applications, other than calendar synchronization, beyond e-mail that will drive RIM’s business into Europe.

As it enters Europe RIM also faces increased competition from phone makers and other device manufacturers.

An early dark horse is Danger Research, the firm founded by former Apple employees which will come out with its wireless e-mail pager with a BlackBerry-like keyboard.

“I’m flattered that they would try to imitate us,” Lazaridis said, refusing to comment further.

Despite the mounting pricing pressures that RIM will likely face as it enters Europe, Lazaridis insisted it would not be necessary to move RIM’s manufacturing operations out of Canada in the long-term.

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