Sunday, May 09, 2010

The future for mobile java

The last three years or so I have worked mostly with mobile java, starting with Java ME and later moving into BlackBerr and Android. A lot of things has happened, three ears ago Android existed, but ther were hardly any phones available and BlackBerry did exist, but I knew nothing about it.

Today the future of Java ME is uncertain. Programming in Java is a good option on most mobile platforms (except iPhone), but the strongest alternatives are Android and BlackBerry, not Java ME.

There are of course different reasons for this. On the technical side, the User Interface options are very limited. LCDUI is very restricted, you very quickly end up with skipping the higher level API, because it is too restricted, and using the Canvas API, where you basically have to paint everything yourself. Doing input in a canvas based interface is difficult, you can react on key down and up, but the standard does not really allow you to tell if the devices even has a keyboard, or if you need to display a virtual keyboard on the screen.

An even worse problem is the fragmentation of the market. Java implementations differ, and even if it is very probable that your java me code will run on most devices (if it is well written) verifying that it does is not a smal task. And if you want it too look good it is even worse. Emulators do not help much either, verifing that something runs in the emulator does not guarantee that it will work on the device. And it is not even sure that there is an emultor for your target device.

And phone manufacturers keep making new models all the time... Apple basically has one platform and offers upgrade for old versions (sometimes free of charge, sometimes at a small charge) but the competition has not learned from this. Instead they have incompatible version on different devices, where you basically have to test on, if not all, several different versions. Just keeping up with the new models from the main manufacturers ( there are only four or five) takes a lot of time. The so called java verification does not guarantee that your application will run on all Java ME implementations with the features you need, instead you have to verify it again and again as there are new devices.

All in all this leads to that Java ME is not a good alternative for your application development today. The future of java om the mobile is rather in Android or BlackBerry. That is if not one of the major manufacturers take steps to fix this. And frankly I don't see this happening.

An exception to this is possibly Symbian. Java ME implementation on Symbian is pretty good. But it seems like Nokia is more interested in promoting development in C++, or rather the very restricted C++ available on Symbian.