Write Once, Run Nowhere?

Wireless games developers say 'write once, run anywhere' evaporates when it comes to mobile Java

September 6, 2002

2 Min Read
Write Once, Run Nowhere?

One size does not fit all. Developers are finding out the hard way that the Java credo of "write once, run anywhere" doesn't work in the mobile world. Proprietary extensions added to the standard by carriers and handset manufacturers, as well as the wide variety of screen sizes and keyboard formats that need to be supported, have veritably nixed some of Java's much-touted portability and reuse benefits.

The need to rework applications for each handset is especially vexing for games developers, because carriers want mobile Java (J2ME) games -- which are seen as a major source of potential revenue -- to look good on each handset they offer. However, for the developer, this could involve reworking their initial game many, many times.

"It’s the dirty little secret of Java development," one industry source who did not want to be named told Unstrung.

Mitch Lasky, CEO of games developer Jamdat Mobile Inc. says that it is generally possible to develop content for the same "family" of phones -- so apps will run across the Nokia Corp.'s (NYSE: NOK) range of J2ME-compatible handsets, for instance. But try to port the same game to something like a Samsung Electronics mobile and you'll run into difficulties.

Sadly, there seems to be no solution in sight. Indeed, games and entertainment companies seem resigned to continuing down the Java path, even if one size doesn't fit, because, for the foreseeable future, that is where the money will be made in digital entertainment offerings.

Meantime, the content providers blame the carriers and the handset makers for this splintering of Java. "Each of the carriers have insisted on their own extensions to Java," Lasky says.

Handset vendors are also having their own little way with J2ME. "For instance, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) has its own version of Java," says the anonymous source quoted above.

We called Sprint PCS (NYSE: PCS), a leading proponent of J2ME in the U.S., about its implementation of J2ME. Unfortunately, the company was unable to find anyone that could answer our questions by press time.

Could the answer be stricter enforcement of Java standards or an extension of the multimedia profile by Java provider Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW)? Sun was unable to find anyone that could address these issues in time for this story.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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