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SavaJe Takes On the Big Boys

ORLANDO, Fla. – CTIA Show – A small startup from Chelmsford, Mass., is planning to take on Microsoft Corp. and Symbian PLC in the hotly contested smartphone operating system market.

SavaJe Technologies Inc. (“Savage” to its friends) announced at the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association Show that it has developed a version of its mobile Java operating system aimed at the emerging smartphone market. The company has an initial partnership with an as yet unnamed handset vendor, which it expects to announce in conjunction with its smartphone OS launch in a couple of months. Products using the system are expected on the market before the end of the year.

The company has developed the OS from Java code it created for high-end handhelds like Compaq Computer Corp.’s iPaq Pocket PC models. “We needed a demo platform to show the system on,” explains SavaJe’s vice president of business development, Matthew Catino. He notes that the iPaq and other more expensive handhelds closely match the architecture of the new breed of smartphones, with a relatively powerful ARM processor (or two) on board and a complement of 16MB or 32MB memory.

SavaJe has expanded its offering because the sales opportunity for its OS is an order of magnitude larger in the high volume world of the smartphones, devices that combine a phone with a sophisticated personal organizer and tend to cost more than standard mobile phones – typically around $300 to $500.

Network operators and equipment vendors have already started the move towards Java on mobile phones. NTT DoCoMo, Motorola Inc., Nextel Communications Inc., and Sprint Corp. offer Java-ready handsets and services or will in the very near future.

However, most of these companies are using some configuration of a J2ME (Java 2 Mobile Edition) virtual machine (JVM) with a microbrowser and a separate OS. SavaJe has taken quite a different approach with its smartphone OS, using the extra memory on this new breed of phone to implement a full OS using Java 2 Standard Edition (J2SE) that has hooks directly into ARM chips – although Catino says the firm will also offer versions of the OS for more memory-constrained phones.

The advantage of this approach, according to Catino, has been much better performance. “Uniformly, the Java performance [using a mobile Java VM on phones] has been horrible,” he claims. SavaJe’s OS, which does not have to deal with multiple layers of code beneath it, can run Java applications 10 times faster than a standard Mobile Java JVM, the company claims. Using J2SE also enables SavaJe to implement a full security system, unlike J2ME – something that will become increasingly crucial as enterprises and financial software houses start to use Java for mobile applications. Also, using J2SE makes it easier for traditional Java developers to come to grips with the mobile environment, since they can use standard Java programs such as the Swing graphical user interface (GUI).

The SavaJe OS also has support for future features like multimedia messaging service – the all-singing, all-dancing color image upgrade to text-messaging – that put it right up with its bigger rivals. The one serious omission is some way to link into Microsoft software like Outlook, Word, and Excel. Ownership of a parcel of familiar applications that people use everyday is probably the major advantage Microsoft has over other software providers in the mobile arena. Symbian and its backers, like Nokia Corp., have started to add these features to their devices. SavaJe hasn’t – yet.

There are, indeed, a couple of big black clouds on SavaJe’s horizon: Symbian and Microsoft. For now, Symbian – a company backed by all the major handset makers – is probably the firm’s most direct rival, as it has been very vocal about supporting the JVM implemented in the latest versions of its EPOC OS. Cantino however, sees a problem involved in telling developers to code in Java on top of a native operating system. “It gets to the point where Java really is the operating system,” he says.

In the longer term, Microsoft will be a vociferous rival for all mobile Java software providers. Catino reckons Redmond will support mobile Java on its platform if a hardware vendor or network operator really wants it. Companies such as Aplix Corp. and Hewlett Packard Co. can supply mobile JVMs for Microsoft’s Windows CE OS, which is the baseline mobile code that all the firm’s Pocket PC offerings derive from.

Cantino predicts that Redmond’s laissez-faire attitude will disappear as the battle line between its own .Net software platform and mobile Java become clearer. “In the long run, it is .Net versus Java – that is my opinion,” he says.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
http://www.unstrung.com
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