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5/29/2008
07:40 PM
Eric Ogren
Eric Ogren
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Qualcomm Lays Out Map For The Future Of BREW

This week at Qualcomm's annual BREW conference, the giant chipmaker gave its content delivery platform a double shot in the arm. BREW's future includes Flash integration and the ability to run widgets created with Qualcomm's Plaza initiative. Are these improvements enough to fend off the competition?

This week at Qualcomm's annual BREW conference, the giant chipmaker gave its content delivery platform a double shot in the arm. BREW's future includes Flash integration and the ability to run widgets created with Qualcomm's Plaza initiative. Are these improvements enough to fend off the competition?BREW is an able platform for delivering content to lower-end, mass-market devices. It has been the pillar of Verizon Wireless' Get It Now services and helps users find the content they want, deliver it, and bill for it appropriately. But it's not a smart operating system. As powerful mobile platforms such as Window Mobile, iPhone OS, and Android steal more users from the low-end handsets, BREW needs to remain relevant and match the ever-evolving mobile market. This week's announcements will help it to do that.

BREW + Flash = BRASH: BREW needs a bold step like this one. Qualcomm is taking BREW and merging it with Flash to take advantage of the huge developer ecosystem that uses Flash. Working together, this should allow lower-end handsets to take advantage of the capabilities of the existing BREW and Flash ecosystems. With business models moving toward more open standards, the real motivation is to evolve BREW and keep it competitive, to provide a path to the mobile Internet for mass-market phones.

OEMs will benefit. Most user interfaces are developed using Adobe's tools, and often in a Flash environment. In the past, it was developed and then ported to BREW or other platform. Now there will be no porting involved, the UIs will work natively in the new BREW platform. This will increase the flexibility of the platform and the speed to market for new products and services.

The road map, unfortunately, stretches well into 2009. The first version of this platform will be available to developers in the fall. It will start with a mobile Adobe client called Lithium for mass-market handsets. This will let large categories of phones leverage Flash apps on their BREW phones. The full version of the integrated platform won't be running until some time in the first quarter of 2009, and it will support full HTML and other standard Web technologies.

Plaza: Plaza is all about empowering the network operators to create and distribute widgets for mobile phones. Widgets are small applications that access the Internet to pull down information and display it in a customizable little package. My own experience with some widget programs has left me unimpressed. Nokia's Widsets, for example, sits at the application layer, not the home screen. And by the time you open it up, navigate to the content you want, click on it, etc., you could just as easily have fired up the browser to get the same information.

Plaza will be different. Widgets are an ideal vehicle to access Internet content, but they have to be done right. Qualcomm's Plaza initiative aims to do it right. It will let the operators maintain full control, so the widgets can be searched for easily and billed for accurately (if at all), and will allow the carriers to put the widgets on the home screen or even tag them to the phone's soft keys.

Plaza will use standard Web technologies, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, to make sure the widgets are platform-agnostic. This means carriers won't have to port them from device to device. There is nothing proprietary in there at all.

Qualcomm believes these changes will make BREW -- and its QIS arm -- a viable, revenue-producing, market-capital-building part of the business. Now it's up to Qualcomm's developer, OEM, and carrier partners to make it a reality.

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