Java ME irrelevant?

Developer Economics Report reveals mobile and tablet sectors dominating, Java ME floundering

Chris Mayer

The Developer Economics Report 2012 shows that two platforms are accelerating ahead of the rest – can Java ME possibly change the tide? Erm no.

The mobile developer ecosystem is currently booming, a comprehensive report into the rapidly accelerating mobile app sector has (as you might expect) shown – with the usual suspects of iOS and Android getting the vast majority of developer mindshare.

Developer Economics Report 2012, the third in a series of developer research reports looked at five main areas: redefinition of mobile ecosystems, developer segmentation, revenues vs. costs in the mobile economy, app marketing and distribution and regional supply vs. demand of apps. Over 1,500+ developers from 83 different countries were interviewed as part of the process on the seven major platforms – Android, iOS, mobile web, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Qt and Java ME.

From the 75-page report, we can glean some interesting insights into how the mobile landscape is shifting, with iOS and Android the only remaining active platforms after 2011’s period of developer experimentation. Android just pips iOS, attaining 76% of mindshare to Apple’s 66% – far out in the lead compared to other players. Unsurprisingly, smartphones now account for over 36% of total handset sales (145M units shipped in Q1 2012).

Whilst the vast majority of developers surveyed targeted smartphones (85%), more and more are dabbling in the burgeoning world of tablets, now there is an established and innovating market. The interesting thing to note is that iOS developers are the most engaged with tablets (namely the iPad), with Android and Java ME developers lagging behind without a strong and globally-available tablet to develop for. The Kindle Fire would be the closest – but of course, it isn’t as readily available as Apple’s device.

The report also notes the wider scope for Java ME developers when it comes to targeting devices, with ME being present in a lot of older technologies still holding stock in less-affluent countries:

Also note that Java ME developers have the widest diversity of target devices. Naturally, their primary targets are feature-phones. However, some 14% of them also target TVs and set-top boxes, a much higher percentage than in other developer segments.

But the report is also particularly scathing of Java ME:

Java ME, being primarily a feature-phone platform, has been shrinking in Developer Mindshare, slipping 11 percentage points, year-on-year. This indicates dwindling feature-phone market share, and the platform’s inability to achieve feature parity with other ecosystems, as it still lacks a global app store. Java apps today are sold mainly via telco app stores, which have very low download traffic. As a result, very few game content providers still pursue the Java app market. Last but not least, with Oracle’s acquisition of Sun, the Java ME platform seems leaderless, with Oracle apparently focused more on extracting patent damages from Google than salvaging the platform.

Damning, but spot-on, especially in that many developers are jumping ship from Java ME. 40% want to abandon it, but why? Well, there’s no grand plan from Oracle in what to do with it but the consensus appears to be that they’ll let it die a slower death, which is wise with many developing nations still reliant on the aging platform. The recent JCP merger of SE and ME further suggests that the latter holds little bearing on a developer’s mind. It’s clear that Java ME’s business model is outdated and hasn’t kept up with the times, and the report hammers the final nail into Java ME’s coffin – ‘the crash is inevitable’.

Check out the full report, sponsored by BlueVia, for in-depth analysis into the mobile ecosystem, its economics and future challenges.

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