Demise of J2ME

Since the arrival of iOS and Android smartphones, J2ME has really faded into the background. And it is not because iOS and Android are better platforms, it is because J2ME didn’t evolve with the rapid technological growth of mobile devices. J2ME was originally intended for low-end devices, as a lightweight Java runtime and was very successful. But we haven’t seen any new enhancements to the platform for the commonly available new high-end mobile devices nowadays. There has been some maintenance releases here and there but no substantial improvements were seen in the platform. Some proposed enhancements are lying dormant in the neo-political and ever bureaucratic JCP. And since Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, and started pushing their ADF platform for corporate mobile solutions, the future of J2ME is looking very bleak.

Noone has anything interesting to say about J2ME anymore and their market-share is gradually decreasing. It is hard to understand why J2ME has been orphaned, which once used to be the only real mobile platform supported by majority of phone vendors. The market did show some positive vital signs for J2ME, when the sales of iOS and Android went down last year, which had some people excited; it also showed that the platform might still have potential. But Oracle, for some strange reason, failed to capitalize on it.

Oracle may brag about millions of devices running Java, but the truth is Oracle doesn’t have a proper platform for modern mobile devices. Realistically speaking, today, J2ME cannot compete with the likes of iOS, and it’s cousin Android, which provides, although non-standard and controversial, but a full featured Java 5 runtime for mobile along with many open source goodies from Apache. From the end-user perspective, J2ME does not give you the same feature-rich user experience as Android, iOS or even Blackberry. The J2ME developers also never saw a standard app-store, available on all mobile devices, where they could sell their apps, which is one of the major success attributes of iOS and Android. And with the success of cross-platform HTML5/AJAX based technologies, it will be pretty hard for J2ME to compete unless it brings something new to table, which doesn’t seem likely with all these years of EDS.

It would have been nice to see a standards-based Java Mobile platform backed by the JCP. Android did come close to becoming the next J2ME, which was also a good news for Java being Open, but the success was marred by the Oracle law-suits. In the end, as a developer it is sad to witness the gradual but imminent demise of J2ME. So R.I.P J2ME, you had your day and it was nice knowing you.

Near Field Communication (NFC)

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a wireless/radio-frequency technology that works over short-range. This involves communicating data between devices(“initiator” and “target”) in close proximty normally requiring less than 10 centimeters. In the realm of mobile phones, the “initiator” is the mobile handset and the target is typically a RFID(Radio Frequency Identification) Tag for passive communication. To understand it; RFID Tags, for passive communication can be thought as QR/barcodes and the smartphone as a “reader”. But with NFC it is also possible to have an “active” communication, which requires powered RFID Tags enabling peer-to-peer communication between itself and the NFC-enabled device, similar to Bluetooth.

Now this technology opens up a realm of possibilities, from reading messages from RFID Smart-Posters, using the mobile phone as keys, to mobile payment services, in which your smart phone becomes your smart wallet making your phone serve as a credit card or, depending on the payment model, charge a credit card with an embedded RFID Tag. This technology is still new but is being widely adopted by smart phone hardware & software vendors; and Android 2.3 has already provided a high-level API to write NFC applications. Google’s Nexus-S is now available in most countries, with built-in NFC support, which enables Nexus-S to read RFID Tags; iPhone 5 & iPad 2 will also be launched with NFC chips. And soon as this technology is well understood, fully standardized with the security issues resolved, we will see it being adopted by more and more companies and financial institutions.

Oracle-IBM pact and Android

IBM-Oracle pact is a good news for Java developers and for the open source community in general. OpenJDK is a more natural open alternative to Oracle J2SE and is well backed by the Java community, so IBM’s move to shift “its development effort from the Apache project Harmony to OpenJDK” makes sense. And remember IBM also wanted to acquire Sun mainly because of Java. Apache Harmony on the other hand never gained enough popularity because of the TCK-issuance tussle between Sun and Apache. But Harmony remains as another open-source implementation of Java, free from legal infringements.

Now a lot of people see this pact as a threat to Google’s Android platform, and associate it with Oracle’s lawsuit against Google, but I don’t think this is the case (although Oracle may think otherwise). First of all OpenJDK is not built for mobile platforms, it could be a threat to Oracle’s own J2SE but not to Android. Secondly Google uses Apache Harmony, which has been rewritten and is Open. Google also uses a Dalvik VM, which is a special virtual machine written from scratch for mobile devices, and is also backed by the Open Handset Alliance. Dalvik VM is also open-source and uses it’s own form of bytecode, which is “distinct and different from Java bytecode“. So Google is not using any Java component in their Android platform, which would obligate them to require a license from Oracle.

As a developer, I think IBM’s move is good for Java being Open. To Google it is kind of an opportunity to start owning Harmony and to control development on it; and Google should seriously start investing in Harmony and capitalize on this opportunity. And for the lawsuit, I think Google can win it, if it is not thrown out of the court, may be fined for “some incompatibilities” in their version of Java. But it is the time this suit is going to take, “may” cause some hardware vendors to slowdown their production of android phones, but the demand will drive it and I don’t see it happening because Android phones are much cheaper; a lot of android phones are lined up for 2011 with Android-3-based tablets.

Oracle, a patent troll, just wants money and will try to prolong the lawsuit as much as they can to get some leverage from “time” and “doubts” about future of android. But in the end it is not going to matter much because Oracle is not Android’s competitor and doesn’t have a “real” mobile platform except for the dying-j2me, which they inherited from Sun.