Porting Apps To BREW

By Peggy Albright Porting a software application to run on multiple devices is a necessary cost of business in the high volume, highly differentiated and highly competitive mobile handset industry. And while it can be generally easier to port applications in BREW than it is in some other mobile content platforms, members of the BREW community are looking for ways to ease the process and reduce the costs associated with it. From the outset, Qualcomm made sure the client software and user interface were implemented and working consistently on all handsets that use BREW. The company has continued to manage the platform to minimize porting requirements. A developer who wants to adapt a BREW application for various devices typically needs to deal only with matters that can be managed from an API, such as screen size or language or other basic characteristics of a phone. The conveniences encourage porting and as a result, BREW applications, once completed, tend to be ported to many devices. Non-BREW apps The term “porting” in the mobile industry has conventionally been used describe the adaptation of applications to run on related devices, but the market is beginning to apply the term to cross-platform processes, such as the adaptation of non-BREW applications to BREW. London-based Airsource is building a new business to serve that need. “Our clients are all European companies so far. They have applications that are not on BREW and they want to take them from these other platforms and move them to BREW,” says Nick Clary, CEO of Airsource. “So the porting process is definitely: How do we adapt this application to work effectively on BREW?” Airsource isn’t alone. Tony de la Lama, senior vice president for product management and marketing at Tira Wireless, says in the past year his company has received an increasing number of requests to port applications from J2ME to BREW. Although J2ME to BREW ports are not new, the trend tells you BREW is “viable and important” to the marketplace, he says. Cross-platform porting Understandably, cross-platform porting introduces new variables to the process, though ports from some environments can be easier than others. Raymond Rischpater, chief architect of Rocket Mobile, advises developers who are new to BREW to familiarize themselves with BREW’s user interface programming components and low-level details, such as how the processor accesses memory, to get acquainted with these technicalities. Airsource is happy with a recent, successful port of the popular European multimedia sharing service, ShoZu, from the Series 60 platform to BREW. Because the Series 60 is a smart phone platform that runs on the Symbian OS, fundamental differences in how the UI manages interactions with the customer and accepts data input, among other things, made the port particularly complex. The complete process took about nine weeks. Simplifying the process Even in a straightforward port, the costs of porting can often equal or exceed the cost of an initial application development, and thus firms are often seeking solutions to simplify the process. Tira, for example, recently added new ways for companies to integrate their workflow processes into its own content development and porting service and it introduced new ways to re-use code, as part of its efforts improve the productivity of the development process. Rocket Mobile suggests developers pre-submit an application idea to operators prior to investing in the costly process, and Airsource suggests developers create a simple sales-version of their port for review by operators before embarking on a full fledged porting process. The three firms are a sampling of a small community of companies—about 10 in number--that have come to market to serve the porting need. Vicki Mealer, director of technical marketing at Qualcomm Internet Services, sees the growth of the porting industry as an indicator of a thriving application development business. “The fact that there’s enough work for these companies to make a viable business out of porting shows the health of the porting system,” she says. Some porting challenges, however, cannot be independently solved by these firms. Because of inconsistencies among manufacturers, porting camera drivers and getting them to work with the BREW iCamera interface is difficult, according to Rischpater. The situation is exacerbated by a high level of fragmentation in camera modules and parts used in phones. This impedes the development of picture messaging applications and, by extension, the creation of a market for imaging applications, Rischpater believes. He calls it “the single largest pitfall in terms of handset features for porting.”