Wingcast turns to Java for in-car services

Wingcast LLC Tuesday tapped Sun Microsystems Inc. to help make Java support a standard feature of in-car entertainment consoles in a move that could bring popular applications currently running on handheld devices and cell phones into automobiles.

Wingcast, a joint venture between Ford Motor Co. and Qualcomm Inc., is one of several companies competing to bring services such as traffic reports, news, e-mail and Internet access into cars. OnStar Corp., a subsidiary of General Motors Corp., currently dominates this field, known as telematics, and has announced a deal with Sun for Java technology in the past.

Wingcast plans to purchase a variety of infrastructure products from Sun, including servers and software, to build a Java-enabled network that can deliver information all the way from a back-end server into the car console, said Erez Nir, vice president of service deployment and delivery at Wingcast. The company will not start delivering its service until next year.

Java could make life easier for companies trying to build in-car services and for end users hoping to gain access to all the promised bells and whistles associated with telematics. The programming language was designed to run on almost any operating system, which means Java applications tend to work on a variety of computing devices. Java's success on the Internet and in cell phones could mean that a wide variety of software will be available to end users when Wingcast rolls out its first Java-enabled in-car system. Wingcast, however, will not have a Java-enabled console until it starts selling its second-generation product at an unspecified date, Nir said.

Wingcast will use the Java tools provided by Sun to create applications such as voice-recognition features and real-time traffic reports for users, Nir said.

Sun is also expected to announce a deal with a large European telematics company in the near future, according to sources familiar with the companies' plans.

With OnStar and Wingcast backing Java, the technology has grown into an industry standard for the telematics space, according to one analyst.

"I think Java is going to be a standard in many types of computing devices because it makes sense," said Egil Juliussen, principal analyst at Telematics Research Group. "It will not be the dominant way of delivering content, but it will be a major way." Java is expected to be used alongside various types of software for delivering content on different kinds of devices.

The success of Java on cell phones and other devices makes it a natural choice for in-car information services, Juliussen said. Applications written in Java tend to be small enough to fit on a console that has processing and memory constraints. In addition, Java has become a popular language with which to write applications, meaning end users should gain access to a wider variety of programs.

"The end user does not really care how the technology gets in there," Juliussen said. "They care about what it can do for them, and Java should do quite a bit. It is really a no-brainer."

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