SAN FRANCISCO Call it the jPhone. At JavaOne Tuesday (May 8), Sun Microsystems debuted software for a high-end cellphone that looked very similar to the Apple iPhone. Sun said handsets based on its software could someday be the devices that bring most users in developing countries to the Internet for the first time.
Like the Apple iPhone that may have inspired it, the ambitious prototype device displayed here caught people's attention but is still months away from being a reality. The software puts Sun into direct competition with some of the top cellphone makers that Sun has partnered with in the past to establish Java in the cellphone.
"We are providing a full software stack for the cellphone like the Nokia Series 60, so I guess we are in competition with them," said Tim Cramer, executive director of customer solutions in Sun's software group.
Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz
The Java Mobile FX software is based on code Sun acquired from Savaje Technologies, a merger completed just last Friday. The Savaje software is a full implementation based on a desktop version of Java. It includes basic applications running on a real-time operating system.
Java Mobile FX is "a complete desktop-scale environment that puts the network in your hand," said Richard Green, executive vice president of Sun's software group, announcing the product in his keynote address.
Sun ported the Savaje code to a Linux kernel and is expanding the applications programming interfaces and set of developer tools that will ship with it. It plans to make the code available on other platforms in the future.
Sun has no licensees for Java Mobile FX yet. However, it is in conversations with carriers and handset makers now and hopes to see cellphones using the software ship in early 2008.
At JavaOne, Sun showed a demo of the software it ported to an existing handset from Taiwan's First International Computer, a device shaped much like the Apple iPhone. Sun enhanced the graphical user interface of the Savaje software, making it look more like the icon-based interface on the iPhone.
Sun Chairman Scott McNealy quipped that Green wearing a black T-shirt in his keynote even looked like Apple's Steve Jobs holding up the new device. "We have our own shirtsleeve version of Steve Jobs announcing a phone," McNealy said.
Java Mobile FX requires at least 32 Mbytes RAM and a 200 MHz ARM 9 processor. Sun will sell the software only in a binary version to ensure compatibility across different systems. The company has not disclosed what it will charge.
Sun's chief executive Jonathan Schwartz expressed high hopes for the future of the software. "We tend to look at the PC and say that's the Internet, but that's not reflective of the real opportunity around the world," said Schwartz.
Others were skeptical. "The Savaje software has been around for some time without getting much market traction, so I don't see how it will be different under Sun," said a technical manager from Sprint at JavaOne who asked not to be named.