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Motorola Challenges Java Developers to Rethink Mobile Computing

Thursday at JavaOne started with a thought provoking keynote by Motorola CTO Padmasree Warrior.  Rather than the usual vendor keynote making grand announcements or touting specific accomplishments of her company, Warrior focused on challenging Java developers to think hard about the transformation of the mobile world.  The theme for her talk was "Platform Disturbia", and she painted a picture of the current state of affairs in the mobile world, and challenged developers to rethink their approach going forward.

Key problems in mobile computing

Fragmentation: The mobile platform is fragmented in areas ranging from hardware, to the flavors of Java available on devices, all the way down to the level of compression formats and DRM schemes for media content.  

Feature overload: Starting with the integration of text messaging into mobile phones in the 1990's, every conceivable feature (for better or worse) has been integrated into phone.  While phone with cameras, flashlights, alarm clocks, email capability, and music may be great, they are often complicated and cumbersome.

Monolithic platforming: Developers tend to think about applications for the phone as extensions or variations of applications for the PC world, but the mobile world is completely different.  Warrior pointed out that when using a mobile device, users hands are not free, their screen is small, and they are frequently distracted.  Mobile users also tend to see their mobile devices as extensions of themselves, not of the PC.  As a result of these two factors, developers will need to approach mobile applications very differently from PC applications.

Transformative developments in mobile technology

WIMAX is coming, and Motorola sees it changing the landscape for mobile computing.  While skeptics have claimed that no one will want to watch full-length movies or television shows on such tiny screens, Motorola's research indicates that a significant percentage of commuters in southeast Asia want exactly that.  With commuting times averaging an hour each way, an increasing number of people are spending large blocks of time with only a mobile device for access to content.  Providing the bandwidth is only the first step, though, in serving these users.  

Personalization will be incredibly important, since greater capabilities for mobile devices will only add to their already overwhelming array of features.  Her point appeared to be that mobile users do not want a swiss army knife all the time; instead they want a tool that adapts to their situations.  The features that a person will want in the forefront at home will not be the same as those they need during their commute, or in the office.  Likewise, each person may have different preferences for the ways they interact with their devices.

Challenges to mobile developers

The essence of Warrior's talk is a challenge to developers to not only address the current problems with mobile computing, but to embrace the transformations that are coming in the mobile world.  In particular she called out four key areas for exploration:
How content delivery will be accomplished in the WIMAX world; specifically how developers will deal with transcoding and DRM
How the infrastructure to support broadband everywhere should look, from CRM and beyond
How and where personalization will occur.  What will it look like?  Will it happen on the device, on the network, or in the cloud?
How will socializing work, and how will it be framed for the user, since more and more will occur over mobile devices?

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