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Middleware meets wireless boom

A forest of Palms, Handsprings and numerous other PDAs is crowding consumer and business markets, but without a foundation of middleware, it has faced stunted growth.

A forest of Palms, Handsprings and numerous other PDAs is crowding consumer and business markets, but without a foundation of middleware, it has faced stunted growth.

If it weren't for sluggish middleware development the wireless industry would be rocketing, according to Jennifer DiMarzio, an analyst with Summit Strategies, Inc.

"Middleware is key for success," DiMarzio says. "We're finally starting to see more players creating platforms," suggesting that the market is beginning to meet the outpouring of devices. A recent study from International Data Corp., confirms DiMarzio's belief, stating that mobile middleware will grow from $137 million in 2000 to $1.5 billion by 2005.

If companies aren't creating middleware, they're at least buying companies that do. Technology giant Palm spent $264 million to acquire Extended Systems in early March.

Mark Willnerd, product marketing manager for Extended Systems, which develops wireless data access servers, says he thinks his company is the first in the first of a long line of acquisitions and mergers.

"There's going to be a lot of consolidation in the market," he says. "We'll see the start of musical chairs, where companies partner up to compete with us in terms of brand recognition and the ability to present information."

The fact that Palm, already offering Palm.Net for its consumer market, acquired another platform for business users signifies that the madly growing device market isn't showing any signs of converging.

"Ideally, one day we'd have the ultimate uberdevice, but that's not going to happen," said DiMarzio." While some business users need devices with big screens, others want ultimate portability. Others still rely on wireless capabilities of laptops or specific features such as barcode scanners.

Since mobile devices aren't likely to converge, middleware will have to become the tool that brings them together.

"Palm acquiring Extended Systems speaks to the importance of using those different devices," DiMarzio says.

Infowave, a competitor to Extended Systems, says the only way to survive is to stay one step ahead of what's currently on the market. It's a necessary move, considering Gartner Group says that by 2004 enterprises will have to support a minimum of 50 different mobile device profiles and 10 wireless network interfaces.

"We know there's going to be a lot of churn on the device side," says Sal Visca, Infowave's chief technology officer. Infowave is working with device manufacturers in early stages to ensure compliance when the hardware is finally launched. He says the company was working with Compaq in January 1999 when iPAQ was a mere prototype.

The fact that middleware providers realize the market will continue to explode is good news, says DiMarzio. If companies know the market is going through constant flux, they're better prepared for it.

Infowave, for one, seems to realize that. "The only constant is change, and that's what we've architected for," says Visca.


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This story originally appeared on searchWireless.

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