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It's still too early to pick the winners, but wireless application development platforms based on Java and Qualcomm Inc.'s Brew are the leading technologies, the Yankee Group says. The two Internet-based platforms are the "best options" for building applications that can be downloaded to a cellular phone or PDAs, according to the high-tech research firm.
The Java 2 Micro Edition, which has an early lead in the market, is being used to run the limited applications available today. Qualcomm's Brew only works on CDMA networks. "It's a limiting factor, but there's a lot you can do with the platform," Yankee analyst John Jackson said.
To date, most Internet-based applications available for handsets are for games and other lightweight uses such as changing the ring tone on a cellular phone.
However, Brew does enable more useful applications, such as location-based services for finding an address. Java applications delivering weather forecasts and other advanced services also are available.
But in general, no platform has gained leadership status because developers and software vendors haven't been able to pick a clear winner. Software builders are hesitant to invest too much money in developing applications until they see a platform with a significant adoption rate.
"If you're a developer, you don't perceive a clear path to revenue today," Jackson said. "There's a lot of options, but it's a very confusing landscape to navigate."
Microsoft made a big push in the market last week when it unveiled its Microsoft .Net Compact Framework, which will be included in Visual Studio .Net 2003. The framework is a tool set designed to simplify development on Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system.
While early tools were clumsy, Microsoft's latest technology is considerably better, Jackson said. In addition, it has several million loyal developers that will start tapping code as soon as they see an opportunity to make money.
Assuming businesses eventually adopt wireless applications in a big way, companies may treat it as an extension of the desktop, which is the dominant method today of delivering application services to workers. If that happens, Microsoft, which has a monopoly in PC operating systems, could have a big advantage, Jackson said.
However, makers of mobile phones aren't eager to let Microsoft dominate the wireless operating system market. They have formed a software consortium that distributes its own operating system. Symbian plc shareholders include South Korea's Samsung Electronics, Nokia, Siemens AG, Motorola, Matsushita Electric Industria Psion and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications.
Nevertheless, some of the handset makers, including Samsung and Motorola, are hedging their bets by planning to support Microsoft technology as well.