Sun moves to simplify Java development on phones

Orange, Vodafone and Sony Ericsson are trying to make testing easier for developers

Sun Microsystems, Orange, Vodafone Group and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications are taking steps to make it a little easier -- and cheaper -- for software developers to bring Java programs to mobile phones.

At Sun's annual JavaOne developer conference in San Francisco Tuesday, they released new open-source testing tools and said they were enhancing the five-year-old Java Verified program used to certify Java ME programs on mobile devices.

The goal: to simplify the process and reduce the number of tests that software developers have to run in order to be sure that their programs will run properly on different phones.

"Nobody likes testing," said Martin Wrigley, director of technology with Orange's partner program, at a press conference. As the market for mobile applications matures, developers will do more of the testing themselves, he said.

The problem is that different network operators have different requirements and sell different devices, so any software developer who wants to reach a large audience has to do a lot of testing. And that can be expensive.

A single test can cost US$200, and while that may not sound like a lot, it can add up quickly. Wrigley knows of one applications developer who maintains 14,000 versions of his product. With the new testing methodology "we have seen reductions in up to 50 percent in the costs of testing," he said.

Sun has been pushing Java on mobile phones for about a decade now, but in recent years the platform has been overshadowed by the iPhone and Google's Android.

The most popular applications on Orange's network are very simple Java apps like Pullface and Bob the Belcher, but there's no reason why Java couldn't be used to create the same kind of applications that are being downloaded from Apple's App Store, Wrigley said.

In fact, as Java ME programs become more sophisticated, testing will become even more important, he said.

"When you have more complex applications ... that requires more testing to make sure it works for the customers."

There are about 200 million high-end handsets on the market, and that number will quadruple in the next few years, said Carl-Eric Mols, director of software strategies with Sony Ericsson.

Still, while high-end products such as the Blackberry and the iPhone get a lot of attention, "the big majority of handsets out in the rest of the world are regular phones with Java ME," he said.

Both Mols and Wrigley declined to comment on what effect, if any, Oracle's planned acquisition of Sun Microsystems will have on Java ME or their new initiatives.

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