Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mobile Java

One of the nice things about Java is that is supported on more than desktop platforms, and has been for a long time. This means there is not only a large library of existing software, but also well-tuned development systems to use with mobile platforms.

By "mobile platform", I'm referring to smartphones and tablets. There are other mobile platforms, but these are the most common ones. Netbooks may also run a "mobile" operating system, or they may run a normal desktop OS. Those that run a normal desktop OS will run normal Java SE applications. Java SE is "Java, Standard Edition", the version that typically runs on a desktop or laptop computer.

Java ME is Java, Mobile Edition. It runs on most smartphones, and many tablets. It is very similar to the Java SE version covered in most of my articles. In fact, it is possible to write many applications using a subset of Java that will run without change under both Java SE and Java ME.

But normally a Java ME application will use user interface objects and interfaces that are specific to Java ME. In many ways these are more sophisticated than the ones for Java SE. Creating many types of graphical interfaces, such as tiled graphics, is easier in the mobile edition than in standard Java.

I have been writing small, simple applications for my cellphones for about ten years now. It's nice to be able to write your own little application for your own unique needs. I started writing Java applications for my Nokia 3650, called a "feature phone" at the time I got it. It was a Symbian Series 60 phone that ran an early version of Java ME with a very basic library of GUI features.

My next phone was a step up the Java ladder. It was a Sciphone G2, a fake Android phone. I didn't mind that it was "fake", it ran a real version of Java ME with updated GUI capabilities, which made it far easier to write applications for.

My current phone is a Blackberry Curve 8900. It runs Java ME with all the latest bells and whistles, plus a lot of Blackberry add-ons that make it easy to access the phone's features.

With my Nokia, I had a special Java development environment provided by Nokia that included a simulation of my phone, so that I could see how my programs would run before I put them on the phone. With the G2 I was on my own. I ran a standard Java ME development environment from within Eclipse, a great Java integrated development environment. The version linked above is a version specific to Java ME.

Now I'm back to having a development environment provided by my phone's maker. I have a program that simulates my phone on my computer, which again allows me to try out my programs before I put them on the phone (with my G2 I tested them as well as I could, then loaded them on the phone and hoped for the best.) It is build on Eclipse, so it is still very familiar. There is also a slew of information on the Blackberry site (linked above) about Java development.

Unfortunately, the tutorials on the site don't exactly match the actual current version of the software, but it's close enough it's not too hard to figure out. One thing that confused me, however, is the installation instructions. I thought I had to install the version of Eclipse they called for before installing the "Blackberry Java Eclipse Add-On". It's an add-on, right?

Well, it turns out that the "add-on" from Blackberry is actually the entire thing, Eclipse and all. So you just need to do that one download to get the development environment. Then download the simulator for your phone and any others you want to test your software on. Finally, apply for a signature key to make it so that you can "sign" your software to allow it to be installed on the phone through the software manager or Over The Air (OTA) when using the Blackberry-specific libraries.

If you'd rather not do this, you can develop software using a plain-jane version of Java ME, then transfer the software to your phone however you please. I put the software I developed for my Sciphone G2 on the memory card for my Blackberry, and it runs just fine.

Translating applications between Java SE and Java ME can be simple for ones with minimal amounts of graphics, like programs that mainly use text, buttons, and text entry boxes for communication. Things like games, with a more involved use of graphics, take more effort to translate between the two versions of Java. For these, I usually re-use the game logic code without changes, then rewrite the graphical display parts of the program from scratch. Because I use good object-oriented coding practices (most of the time), this isn't too much effort.

Java ME applets are easy to translate, though I write almost all of my Java software as applications now.