Will Japan BREW Jolt Java?
After a two-year business strategy planning pause, BREW finally launched in Japan last month. From the consumer point of view, BREW and Java work more or less the same: you navigate a menu, select an application, download it, then run it. There’s little to chose on a technology basis. But BREW – like 3G – may be able to gain a leg up on Java (DoCoMo’s favored choice) if KDDI can continue to roll out cool, fun, cheap, feature-laden (and BREW-enabled) handsets – much as the carrier has done with 3G. Now that KDDI has finally rolled out BREW, we wonder how competition with Java will unfold in 2003? Ironically, BREW’s future may be intimately tied up with that of 3G.
Comments from Wireless Watch Japan Editor-in-Chief Daniel Scuka:
Ironically, BREW’s future may be intimately tied up with that of 3G.
BREW – for Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (yet another mumble acronym devised by some seriously language-challenged techie) is an application download provisioning and execution system that allows mobile users to download small applications to their celly, store them, and then run or execute them whenever desired.
BREW applications (BREWlets?) can deliver a wide range of functionality – games, messaging, entertainment, remote control, e-com/m-com, navigation, etc. – limited only by the imagination of third-party application developers. Of course, applications are also limited by onboard memory and by packet fees to download the apps.
While Java has a huge head start in Japan (there are some 24 million Java handsets in use on all three major networks), BREW may find success.
A year ago, I would not have been so (cautiously) optimistic. At that time, BREW had yet to launch with over-the-air delivery (the first BREWlets were available here preinstalled on KDDI handsets in March 2002), Java was the only choice for mobile application development, and there was yet little developer support.
You can judge the degree of Java momentum here for yourself after watching out reports from Sun’s JavaOne conference, held in September 2002 in Yokohama (links below).
All this changed, however, when KDDI launched 3G in April; since then, the carrier has sold an impressive 5.9 million handsets – creating a highly attractive market for developers. Also, there’s been a growing movement of independent application providers towards the platform.
In June last year, Tokyo-based K Laboratory received KDDI’s “Carrier’s Choice” award at Qualcomm’s BREW 2002 Developers Conference in San Diego for their “Kyara Komyu” instant messenger BREWlet (user select a 3D character to be attached to mail messages). G-Mode, HI Corp, and others have said they would support BREW.
Also, in January, KDDI joined with Korea’s KTF and China Unicom to form the BREW Operator Working Group (BREWOWG?). This could go a long way to boosting developer interest if BREWlets can be easily sold into additional markets.
Most notably, Nihon IBM will work with KDDI to develop BREW middleware services and a BREW Business Profile linked to IBM’s “WebSphere Everyplace Access.”
Ultimately, from the consumer point of view, BREW and Java work more or less the same: you navigate a menu, select an application, download it, then run it. There’s little to chose on a technology basis.
This is the same mechanism that has allowed KDDI 3G to succeed over DoCoMo: the handsets are better, they’re cheaper, and they work well. Subscribers therefore choose KDDI (no one cares about CDMA vs. W-CDMA).
I think, therefore, that BREW may be able to gain a leg up on Java if KDDI can continue to roll out cool, fun, cheap, feature-laden (and BREW-enabled) handsets; i.e. subscribers will choose BREW if the devices are otherwise attractive. Note that KDDI’s ability to maintain 3G handset momentum is by no means guaranteed, since it’s expensive to do so and DoCoMo has already deployed much-improved W-CDMA handsets – with an enhanced Java environment.