What future for J2ME?

Waow, what a big year, with several new platforms (Androïd, iPhone, JavaFX) , the move of Symbian to OpenSource?

Everybody these days is talking only of OpenOS (which in fact are not so open, but anyway) and the reborn of mobile applications.

So what happens to j2me, which is still the most important technology to deploy applications onhundreds of millions of handsets

The good thing, thanks to the push of these OpenOS is that application are now seen as a viable alternative to browser only, and a viable revenue stream.

But J2me seems to be out of the race. Why:

  • Where’s the AppStore? Still none of the MIDP2 handset have a good equivalent of the AppStore, an easy to use discovery and download mechanism. And even worst, once downloaded, the application are usually hidden in one of the numerous sub menus of the phone. And there is NO WAY to create your own AppStore in J2me using standard API.

  • MIDP3 is too late: MIDP3 phones, which should have been an answer to many of the MIDP2 lacks (background processing, multitasking, improved UI, etc…) is late. No phone hit yet the market, and even, MIDP3 as a standard is already below the market. MIDP3 is two years too late.
  • Why JavaFX? Sun introduced JavaFX trying to compete with Adobe AIR, and Silverlight. Mistake.  As I already explained (“JavaFX, the missed opportunity of Sun“), they are not good at this. Why Sun did not invest instead to provide an embeed VM into iPhone for instance?
  • Fragmentation: one of the biggest historical issue of J2me. Something that new platform don’t have yet, due to their short life. But when we will have tenth of manufacturers doing Androïd phones, I guess that there will be fragmentation too.

So this seems to be a pessimistic article about J2me, especially regarding the fact that I invested so much in this technology (I’ve been in MIDP2 expert group, as well as MIDP3 one). Again, J2me is still the leading technlogy in terms of installed base, but in  term of usage and application, the gap is not as big. So the game is quite open, iPhone/Androïd deployment will increase this year, and I am sure that others technology will emerge.

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16 thoughts on “What future for J2ME?”

  1. Yeah 2009 should be an interesting year for J2ME.

    about “Why Sun did not invest instead to provide an embeed VM into iPhone for instance?”

    that is because Apple controls the platform, and decides what goes into their Macs and iPhones (Java VM on Apple was written by Apple which is why it is always behind a couple of revs).


  2. What I have heard, from sources close to Sun is that Sun actually do have a JVM running on the iPhone. There are also more than one OpenSource port for this.

    The problem is Apple’s license policy do not allow “interpreted code” such as java bytecode (even if it’s JIT compiled into native at startup/run-time as is the case on the desktop and some MIDP2 phones, SonyEricsson for example). So only way to run the JVM’s on the iPhone is by “jailbreaking it”, which works great on the other hand!

  3. maybe J2ME arrived to early
    on a too young market, with device manufacturers too powerful to just apply java specs.
    very single manufacturer designed their own J2ME implementation
    So with concentration, maybe fragmentation will decrease
    But I’m not optimistic on it.
    I think times have changed, new technologies (Apple, Android & other ones still to come) will make J2ME the prehistory on mobile applications

  4. The irony is that J2ME devices are more powerful and bug-free than they’ve ever been. But plain MIDP is nearly featureless when compared to iPhone and Android OS’s. Some JSR’s are nice but the more exotic ones are either poorly designed or on too few devices to make a market.

    However, I believe that J2ME devices are more relevant than ever because the low to mid-range devices have become powerful enough — screen, cpu, memory, camera and radio — to build great applications.

    A good example is Nokia’s announcement of six “emerging market” devices ranging from US$ 60-90. The $90 device has a QVGA display, camera and a fair amount of memory. Here’s a link with some mobiles Nokia classifies as “entry level”: http://www.nokia.com/A4405104

    So what can you do on these devices? What are they capable of? Well, with some work and ingenuity you can build some slick applications that run well on them. Check this out:


    Go Java!

  5. Allan,

    My point was not about the ability to create great applications in J2ME. As you know, we (Webwag) are aslso one of the big provider of powerfull application in J2ME. So trust me, I beilieve that J2me can be used now to create the best mobile applications.

    My point was more about evrything else: the discovery process, the payment, the ecosystem, etc… As usual, J2me is a good and mature technology now, but operators and manufacturers failed to bring the missing pieces.

  6. Interesting post Thomas!
    I know your knowledge and involvment in J2ME so your analyse (which is not really optimistic for J2ME) is really interesting knowing this…

  7. i believe j2me will still be there but there will b more fragmentation with android coming to more phones. I can c j2me dying if every single one of us start using an ipone :P

  8. Excellent post and I agree 100%. I’m a former J2ME game developer who now exclusively works with smartphones. The difference in the quality of applications built to the native OS’es is night and day (no surprise), but that fact that the gap continues to widen is extremely sad. The power and capability of the average handset has long since passed the capacity of J2ME to take advantage of it. That’s part of what’s enabling the “alternate” JVM models like HipLogic’s both from a technology and market opportunity perspective. When you have to spend 60%+ of your effort/budget in porting your app to fractious implementations of J2ME…PLUS the resulting effort is generally head-and-shoulders below the native OS equivalent…well, the result is what we have today.

  9. Tuomas, This is an excellent and visionary post. Despite the half billion download on Apple App store and forthcoming Blackberry and Android app stores as well as rebirth of Palm, J2ME stays the most widespread standard for branded apps in mobile handsets.
    The mobile world is only getting richer …

  10. I agree 100%. I worked in Porting J2ME to handsets and it was always the most problematic stage of a Game’s Fanout. The fractious implementations of the KVM serve to cause massive headaches to J2ME developers. Developing for the iPhone, which only needs 1 single build makes the App’s development lifecycle much smaller as you remove all the Porting out of the equation and also reduce QA costs, as you don’t need to test for obscure cases that show up on MIDP handsets. J2ME is slowly dying, and MIDP3 is way too late to make an impact. Many Mobile Dev companies are dropping J2ME and focusing solely on smartphones (Blackberry, iPhone, WinMo, and Android Cupcake). This trend will only increase and serve to undermine future adoption of J2ME as content dwindles. J2ME is still a powerful deveopment platform but it is nothing compared to the iPhone’s API’s and Android’s capabilities. I never understood why Manufacturers could never get something like drawRoundRect() to actually draw a proper Rounded Rectangle, or why some handsets would give the weirdest events when Paused/Resumed, or even not give any events at all! The java community really messed the MIDP implementation up as they only standardized the spec and not the KVM. Even with MIDP3, if there isn’t a standard KVM then I expect more and more Mobile Dev companies to abandon J2ME altogether as it is too much work for very little revenue (especially when carriers are eating up to 70% of the On-Deck revenue).


  12. http://j2mevnc.sourceforge.net/
    ^ the only app needed…

    Why use some mini processor when I can use my quad core 2.8GHz at home?

    Anyhow since I am posting two years after original article it qualifies as the future…

    Anyhow that VNC client allows me to use a worthy system…

    I can still use j2me for stupid/easy tasks that wouldn’t be worth VNCing into my beast for…

  13. I agree that there has been uncertainty over J2ME future but we at Tricastmedia still see big potential for J2ME. With our tools and application we are covering a big number of devices across different brands. Although we are supporting other platforms too but we still see J2ME with the greatest potential and it seems to last for at least few more years.

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