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One of the promises of Java is a new world of Internet PDAs. But there are no instances of Java doing anything in a PDA, or so says my friend the professional cynic. My response is wait, just wait. As multi-user "Quake" games replace alt.sex.newsgroups as the Internet time-sink of choice, Java PDAs will change the computing market forever. If you believe that Java will eventually do everything that current methods do, these PDAs will be ubiquitous, thanks to the variety of new wireless technologies and systems. Java developers will be a driving force to make these PDAs happen

As we discussed in my last column, hardware is becoming increasingly transparent to the Java programmer. The new Java-based PDA hardware wil run JavaOS on either a merchant microprocessor or a picoJava chip. It will be fast, cheap, and universal--a black box. The microprocessor and OS technology differences will be neutralized by JavaVM or JavaOS. Hardware developers will compete on reliability, cost, performance. Hard,measurable numbers. Although most Java hardware systems will be reduced to black boxes, room for creativity will still exist in the User Interface technology and in the ergonomics of the packaging. Systems and PDAs that are not pure Java will still be based on unique combinations of hardware and RTOS software, and because of their uniqueness, will become increasingly expensive to create and maintain.

In the new wireless world that we are entering, System Integrators and service providers will be fiercely competing with each other for the best/fastest/coolest products and services. New types of PDA products and services will be everywhere, with high value commercial applications leading the way. These are Internet-based systems, with Java as a key enabler

Lots of money will be made in marketing PDA-based services and collecting tolls from the wireless highways. Where does this leave the hardware? FREE. Hardware will be given away to sell services. The "free" may not happen immediately, but it will happen. One year ago, I bought a small, portable phone for $100, with the commitment to sign on for a year of phone service. Last month, a friend got a better, cheaper version of my phone. Her phone was free. The free phone was a reason to sign up with Service Provider A instead of Service Provider B. Guess what? Service Provider B now offers a better phone for the same price as Service Provider A--free.

If you own a wireless Internet access service you will give away PDAs, and attempt to get rich off of the monthly fees and special features. With consumers and businesses using their free phones, do you think anyone will pay for a wireless PDA? Not for long. Soon enough, even free PDAs won't be enough; you will need another competitive differentiator. Java Applet-based services that are unique in some way will differentiate you from everyone else--you have the best/fastest/coolest services.

Therein lies the opportunity for Java developers to create these special services: next generation Email (voice, data, fax), agent-based Internet searches, etc.

Your Java Applet may be the reason that someone pays $20 a month for a new service, or uses that $20 for Lotto tickets. In the cell phone example, it will be the reason that someone signs up for Service Provider A vs. Service Provider B. Think about what is at stake for the System Integrators and service providers, and how valuable your Java skills are to them.

How does anyone compete with free? Free and better, using your Java Applets.

About The Author
Randy Cook currently handles product marketing for Java and Network Computing at VSIS, a start-up focused on Java-based system products. His background is rooted in technology change: for the past seven years, in networking, digital media and interactive video technologies. He holds a BSEET from Cal Poly - San Obispo. Randy is married and spends his non-marketing life raising two sons, tweaking vacuum tube stereo equipment and playing squash.


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