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Mobile Java -- milliwatts or mips?

How do you measure device performance? The old computer metrics are mips, megaflops and gouraud shaded polygons. Faster, cheaper, more, more, more. Rob Bamforth analyzes market developments in this column.

Market Analysis

Mobile Java -- milliwatts or mips?
How do you measure device performance? The old computer metrics are mips, megaflops and gouraud shaded polygons. Faster, cheaper, more, more, more. New processor chips double their number of transistors every 18 months according to Moore's Law, and clock rates increase so that processors really do hum. Great, eh? Yes if you can keep the device close to mains power and far away enough not to be affected by any surplus heat.

But not if you're mobile - especially if the device is meant to be a lightweight mobile phone handset - and you have to carry the power with you in the shape of batteries.

Mobile data services mean that sophisticated client software is necessary on the handset, so perhaps it also implies the need for a full function operating system like those from Symbian, PalmSource, Microsoft and the mobile Linux fraternity. These operating systems provide a runtime platform for applications and isolate application providers from the underlying hardware specifics. In addition to providing commonality across different hardware devices, an open operating system provides developers with a broader market to target with applications through a common set of application programmer interfaces. Good for functionality, but more for the battery to run.

Even broader perhaps would be to provide a platform that spans operating systems, like, say, Java.

But do you want the precious milliwatts in the battery to burn out spinning a growing stack of software in the handset or just a protocol stack of data traffic across the network. I'm sure operators would prefer the latter, but users have many requirements for their mobile devices. There is a place for smarter, faster more sophisticated mobile devices, but also a place for simpler, lower power ones too. A mobile phone with a battery that functions for less than a day will not be acceptable no matter how good the downloadable games.

Swiss-based company, Esmertec, has consistently promoted long battery life with a lean, mean Java platform. While other companies, have successfully worked to improve the performance and speed of Java, Esmertec worry more about issues such as power consumption, memory footprint and battery life. They believe that all mass market mobile phones will need to run Java applications, whether or not they need a full-blown open operating system.

So what about those that don't yet run Java?

The Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW) from San Diego, California, headquartered, Qualcomm has often appeared as a competitor to the Java platform, with native application support for C and C++ and an end-to-end content distribution model. Esmertec has recently added the BREW platform to their places that can use their Java runtime, with the first implementation of Mobile Information Device Profile (MIDP) version 2.0 for BREW. It's been tested and endorsed as a 'TRUE BREW' solution, so developers can benefit from the BREW distribution channel and business model, as well as the cross platform Java.

Developers want to target the widest set of handsets. Users want handsets that are smart enough to run the features they need all day, and not so smart that they run out of juice. Esmertec's mass market approach to Java certainly helps broaden the appeal of the platform to the smaller, lighter, lower powered devices.

Not only write once, run anywhere but perhaps also right weight, run anytime.

Copyright 2003. Originally published by, reprinted with permission. provides IT decision makers with free daily e-mails containing news analysis, member-only discussion forums, free research, technology spotlights and free on-line consultancy. To register for a free e-mail subscription, click here.

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