Oracle's planned acquisition of Sun Microsystems probably won't immediately affect the world of mobile Java, some industry observers said, though over time the company might have an interest in steering the technology to its benefit.
Oracle has said Java was its biggest reason for buying Sun, but the move may have had more to do with enterprise uses of Java than the mobile arena, according to some people close to the mobile business. Java Mobile Edition (formerly J2ME) has been widely used as an application platform for "feature phones," or handsets that can support applications and some Internet use but are less full-featured than smartphones. Mobile Java is also the basis of most third-party applications for Research in Motion's BlackBerry smartphone, and Google's Android platform uses Java at the application level.
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Java's role in handsets may decline as smartphones decline in price and start to replace feature phones, though that change is likely to take several years. In addition, mobile Java may get a second wind from the upcoming Java FX platform, designed for smartphones, PCs, and other clients.
Sun has licensed and promoted mobile Java freely for mobile handsets with an eye to selling more enterprise Java servers to mobile operators. But it hasn't played a strong role in guiding the mobile technology, instead allowing software and hardware vendors and carriers to develop a variety of Java virtual machines. That has led to a plethora of Java-enabled phones and mobile Java applications, but also complaints about fragmentation that makes life harder for developers.
Oracle has more important issues to deal with in the short term, such as integrating Sun and possibly jettisoning much of its hardware business, but observers disagree on whether it will take advantage of mobile Java later on.
"I suspect that J2ME is not going to be what Oracle is going to want to focus on," said analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates, adding that it wasn't a major focus for Sun, either.
Jason Devitt, president and CEO of mobile software maker Skydeck, also downplayed Sun's role. Devitt founded Vindigo, which developed software for many Java-enabled phones.
"If there's a problem ... you go to the operator, the (original equipment manufacturer), the JVM company, and Sun, in that order," Devitt said. Java, originally conceived as a common platform that would let developers write an application once for many handsets and carriers, failed spectacularly in that respect, he said.
Because Sun has largely handed the reins of mobile Java to the developer community, Oracle couldn't change the mobile Java world much even if it wanted.
"At this point, you can't put the genie back in the bottle," said analyst Avi Greengart of Current Analysis.
However, Oracle may have an incentive to do what it can to push mobile Java, one observer said.