Editor's Corner: BREW 2006, JavaOne, and the state of mobile development

Attending BREW 2006 and JavaOne 2006 gave me a great opportunity to get a feel for the big trends affecting the mobile software industry. Perhaps the most noticeable trend is a focus on branding, customization, and targeted marketing. Nearly every new consumer product I've seen recently could be customized to fit a particular user, or displayed contextual ads, or somehow aggregated user preferences for market research.

Qualcomm's uiOne offering, for example, is a UI customization and theming engine for BREW phones. The idea is that developers can tie their applications into uiOne so that they can integrate with new themes. Operators can benefit by creating a consistent look and feel or by tailoring certain themes to appeal to a particular market segment, but the real value is in allowing users to customize their own phones. There is already strong evidence that this is what users want, and it provides operators with valuable information about their customers. (Those users with the "Hollaback Girl" theme? Maybe their next bill should include a coupon for the new music download service.)

uiOne also goes beyond ringtones, backgrounds, and screensavers. Qualcomm signed a deal with Monotype Imaging, an old-school digital typeface company, to support fully scalable, multilingual mobile font technology. Monotype predicts users will want to associate certain fonts with specific people in their address book. The technology also makes it easy to include, for example, a distinctive Verizon font on handsets that is consistent across the entire brand.

Less visible players are also getting in on the action. V-ENABLE's voice search technology, for example, provides developers and operators with valuable marketing data on what people are searching for and whether or not they found it. One mobile backup service vendor even touted the potential for his service to build marketing profiles of users based on the mobile content stored they save to the server.

Mobile marketing and product positioning are major concerns for those with a product to sell, but for developers still working in the trenches the biggest problems often revolve around bridging compatibility gaps and fighting incomplete or incompatible technological standards.

Javaground is a development, porting, and testing service provider for J2ME games that has an interesting proposition for developers who want to reach the BREW audience. The company has created a Java API and framework that abstracts away many of more annoying J2ME quirks. In addition, apps based on this framework can be run through a tool to automatically generate BREW code from the Java source. Of course, the generated code needs a little tweaking, but Co-Founder and CEO Alexander Kral says the translation is automatic "wherever possible" and that the BREW code sometimes runs even faster than the Java original.

Juice Wireless' JuiceCaster is a free social networking and media sharing site that aims to work on equally well on either a mobile phone or a PC. The service's real value, however, is its audio, video, and image transcoder--that is, its ability to take content from one device, automatically reformat it, and display it on another device. Officially, Juice Wireless' business model revolves around advertising, but rumor has it the company is also willing to license its A/V conversion technology to other developers. The company recently signed a deal to embed Juice Caster on Kyocera Wireless phones, and just yesterday the company received $3.5 million in a third round of funding.

In the end, dealing incompatible standards and qualifying marketing leads is nothing new, but the level of interest (and money) being raised to help solve these problems is noteworthy. And at least we've moved passed the days of indiscriminate mass-SMS campaigns and hand-coding games in ASM. -Eli