ARM Lends a Java Hand to Wireless Devices

ARM focuses on licensing hardware designs to electronics companies interested in lowering both the hardware costs and the power consumption of the devices they build. ARM doesn't build its own chips, but rather provides processor, peripheral and system chip designs, mostly to makers of wireless and Internet appliances. ARM executives said the two extensions released Wednesday should help its customers deliver better applications to the wireless world.

"On a mobile appliance, you care about power consumption and memory cost," said David Cormie, product marketing manger at ARM, in an interview. "That is why having the execution of Java byte code built into the hardware is a significant advantage."

The Jazelle architecture extension is designed to make wireless devices, set-top boxes and other Internet-enabled devices able to execute Java code directly on the device. By taking this approach, the vendor claims processing speeds can increase by around 8 times what a software-only implementation would provide.

"What Java gives you is a higher level of interaction than you can get with a browser-based interface," Cormie said.

Cormie said using the Java extension allows devices to handle locally a larger part of an application's execution. This should reduce the amount of interaction between the device and the network, thus improving execution.

"Games will probably drive this thing more than anything else," Cormie said.

Game makers, however, are not the primary customers ARM has in mind with Jazelle. Instead, Cormie claimed that service providers may see the Java tool as a way to jump ahead of the competition and deliver better applications to users.

"Service providers make money by delivering services people pay for," he said. "Basically, Java allows them to deliver new kinds of services."

On a similar note, the SIMD extension should bring comparable power and performance measures to devices that run audio and video applications.

As wireless devices become more prevalent and capable, users can expect to see far more media-rich applications than before. Extensions like SIMD help place some of the load on embedded processors, instead of relying on a server thousands of miles away to deliver a smooth, clear video clip.

John Rayfield, director of technical marketing at ARM, said the extension may carry over to industries other than wireless device makers. He highlighted the automotive industry as one area where users might not have expected to see this type of technology.

"It should boost the performance of technology uses in automotive collision systems," Rayfield said.

Customers of ARM are currently working on products using the extensions, and users can expect to see the technology appearing in devices by this time next year. ARM said close to 14 customers voiced interest in the Java extension, with wireless service providers leading the pack.

Palm has already said it will move its hardware over to ARM architecture and sources close to the company say Palm devices running the Java extension might not be too far off, either.

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Ashlee Vance

PC World
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