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Mobiles now the target for developers

For 'nomadic' think cellular, not tents and camels

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When it comes to targeting the highest of high volume applications markets, developers have now only one place to look, according to Rob Shaddock, corporate vice president and chief technology officer of Motorola. That place is the mobile phone and its growing range of expanded derivatives.

Just one throw-away line during his presentation at last week's JavaOne conference in San Francisco gave an indication of the potential these beasts now display for soaking up an ever-growing range of applications. "The largest (highest volume) camera makers in the world are now Motorola and Nokia."

According to market researchers such as Pyramid, there are now well over two billion mobile phone subscribers, which itself represents a huge marketplace. Perhaps more important is the fact that the churn rate is extremely high.

Shaddock suggested that some 900m client units will be sold this year, which suggests that the rate of development of new services and features is giving a large percentage of those units a lifecycle of less than 12 months. Motorola itself expects to sell, this year, more mobile phones than the entire world PC industry put together.

The next big kick in the market, he suggested, will come from real exploitation of the mobile internet, with always-on connection and IP everywhere. This has real advantages in the mobile market because many new applications will then be built on the ability this offers to just move content between IP addresses.

The coming of HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) will offer similar connection speeds to broadband and will be able to create a world, Shaddock said, where content is available anytime, anywhere and anyhow. This latter is a reference to seamless roaming, where individual devices will not only be equipped with both cellular and Wi-Fi capabilities, but will be able to switch between them seamlessly, if required.

So one of the key targets developers should hold in mind is "nomadic" - any application that can benefit from being performed where the user is located, rather than where the tools are normally located (such as the office desk and desktop PC, or the hi-fi system at home) is going to stand a good chance of success. It takes but a little thought to see there is a broad spectrum of potential to be targeted here. It ranges from the purely personal, such as developments in the entertainment arena (this writer can't get too excited about TV on the move, but I'm informed it could be the next big thing) through to the professional, such as poor, benighted freelance journalists struggling to combine weekends away with finishing work against a deadline (all sympathy gratefully received).

In fact, the TV capabilities are expected to be extended into two-way communications so that users can send messages back. This could particularly excite the many shopping channels that inhabit the airwaves already. Peer-to-peer gaming and chat applications are also seen as offering major potential.

"The thing is that the future killer applications have not yet been written," Shaddock said, "because till now the cellular phone makers have not made it easy for developers. So there is a need to get standardisation implemented faster."

He welcomed the news that the Java licence is changing to encourage Linux developers to use it, saying that it should create a more open and vibrant marketplace as the functionality of the devices - nowadays built on more than seven million lines of embedded code - becomes more accessible. ®

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