A big shift coming for mobile applications

Steve Hamm

New uses for smart phones seem to be popping out of the woodwork. I know this because my 18-year-old son, Daniel, is one of zillions of teen-agers who are lining up online these days to buy the new Sidekick III hybrid cellphone/camera/Web browser/PDA/musicplayer from Sharp. But the gadgets and services we're seeing now just scratch the surface of what's possible. In the background, all sorts of technology foundation building is going on that will impact the markets a year or two from now. For instance, the effort by the OSGi Alliance to advance capabilities for downloading software upgrades to mobile (in fact, any) devices. Mobile mashups, anyone?

The OSGi Alliance has been around since 1999, but just now it seems to be getting traction. The group sets standards and develops foundation technologies to make it easier to use Java-based software across all sorts of devices. (Everything from cell phones and auto electronics systems to PCs and even mainframes)On July 26, the OSGi and five companies announced an effort to boost adoption. The OSGi Alliance itself and the companies, Nokia, Samsung, IBM, Gatespace Telematics and ProSyst Software, are pledging royalty-free access to patents they own to any developer who uses the technology to create software or services based on the OSGi platform. "The patent pledges help to break a psychological barrier and makes developers much more willing to use the technology. We think it will provide a big boost," says Bob Sutor, IBM's vice-president of standards development.

One of the most powerful things about the OSGi technologies is they make it easier for device makers and software makers to upgrade the software in already-in-use machines to improve security and add features. That way, a machine doesn't have to be discarded because its outdated. It can be given new life with a software transplant.

Also, with OSGi, developers can create middleware software components and make it easier to deploy applications on devices. John Bostrom, chief Java architect at Nokia, likens this advance to what happened when middleware was created for computer servers, which gave rise to major improvements in application development and integration.

Down the road: online service mashups. "We think of this technology as the remote control for Web 2.0," says Bostrom. Yahoo, Google, and other online companies are producing innovative new Web 2.0 services, but there are few tools in place to make them work optimally in the mobile environment. It's not enough to just have Java and a browser on mobile devices. With OSGi technology, developers can go to the Google Web site, fetch its application programming interface, create a mashup, and download it to a mobile device--instantly search-enabling any a variety of applications, including calendar, games, or corporate CRM programs.

A lot of this is heavy-duty software architect stuff, but, before too long, it will start showing up in the hands of our 18 year olds.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.