AT&T Joins Group To Address Java ME Fragmentation

AT&T has joined the board of directors of Java Verified, an IT industry group that promotes testing standards for Java ME applications, the company announced last week.

Java Verified was started about five years ago as an amalgamation of the application testing programs of Sun Microsystems and handset manufacturers Nokia, Motorola and Sony/Ericsson. Membership in the organization has grown since then to include network operators Orange, Vodaphone, and now AT&T.

The group operates under the auspices of the Unified Testing Initiative (UTI), which was formed to address the larger issue of Java ME fragmentation. The UTI’s ultimate goal, explained Martin Wrigley, chair of UTI, head of the Java Verified management board, and director of technology for the Orange Partner Program, is to streamline mobile Java app testing into a single program.

“Java Verified has a single, very clear mission, which is to get more quality applications on more devices,” Wrigley said. “Our agreement as an organization is to improve the quality for everybody--the consumer, the developer, the handset manufacturers, and the network operators. We all see the value of promoting a unified testing initiative.”

Prior to the formation of the UTI, network operators, handset manufacturers nd application channels each maintain their own standards and processes for applications, Wrigley said.

“We had a belief in the industry a few years ago that you could only address a single Java handset with a Java program,” he said, “but that’s no longer true, and we’re trying to show that there are families of devices that are very similar, and are, in fact, the same as far as the developer is concerned. Essentially, we’re trying to reduce the number of hoops the developer has to jump through for the device manufactures and network operators to accept their applications -- to have a have a single set of standards for testing and proving their applications on devices.”

The UTI brings together existing schemes and experts on testing mobile apps to create a single set of tests related to the operating characteristics of Java apps for mobile devices. These tests, called the Unified Testing Criteria, are the basis of the Java Verified program, Wrigley said.

The UTI supports developers primarily with information, Wrigley said. The UTI Web site includes examples of applications that have gone through the process of getting tested and signed through the Java Verified Program.

“Fragmentation is an inevitable side effect of innovation, and it’s not just limited to Java,” he said. “But we need to work to keep it in check. Every time a new handset comes up with new hardware features, facilities, support and market-leading technology, it introduces fragmentation. The standards bodies gradually sweep these together to reduce that fragmentation going forward.”

Fragmentation is not just limited to Java. In fact, it’s everywhere. Web-runtime applications, or widgets, represent one of the most fragmented segments of the industry right now, Wiley pointed out, with standards still emerging in that area.

This year’s annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was awash in widgets. Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Netflix, Twitter and YouTube all promoted their widgets at the show. Yahoo’s Widget Gallery was on prominent display, and the company announced “widget partnerships” with Hisense, ViewSonic, MIPS Technologies, and Sigma Designs. And TV manufacturers Vizio, LG Electronics, Samsung, and Sony promoted their use of the Yahoo widget platform for their TV apps. It also saw the introduction of Google’s much anticipated Nexus One smartphone, which analysts expect to give Apple’s iPhone-targeted App Store a run for its money.

Those vendors who manage to control their environments very tightly and maintain one platform (e.g., Apple, RIM and Microsoft) have an advantage when it comes to fragmentation, Wiley said. Because Java is an open environment, and thus arguably more inherently innovative, fragmentation is more of an issue.

The addition of AT&T to its board is a coup for the non-profit group. Wrigley calls it “a major step forward” for the organization.

“It means that, as well as covering the vast majority of Europe, we’re now covering a large portion of the American market as well,” he said, “and bringing Java Verified more to the attention of American developers.”


About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].