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So it turns out that when suggest that a company's product might be a scam, you get their attention! My blog post from last week on J2Android, a new tool from the Myriad Group that turns MIDlets into Android apps, resulted in a pleasant conversation I had today with Myriad CTO Benoit Schillings. While I still think the initial coverage of the product's release (and it isn't exactly fully released yet -- more on which later) was weirdly silent on the fact that this is essentially transforming one kind of Java into another -- Schillings was pretty open about what J2Android is for, what it can do, and who its targets customers are.
Like any good salesman, Schillings wouldn't rule out the possibility of individual programmers using J2Android to turn their newly minted MIDlets into Android apps. But to hear him talk, his company's real target market is made up of big software vendors and mobile operators who own the rights to hundreds if not thousands of legacy MIDlet apps in their existing stores. These providers might not even have access to the original source code for the application. If they want to launch an Android handset, these providers will want to have a ready-made App Store equivalent on hand; it probably isn't worth their while to hire coders to tweak the code of each one to fill up their new Android store, especially when such stores need the psychological advantage of saying "We have X thousand apps on launch!"
Schillings, who is probably most famous for his history with BeOS and TrollTech, was enthusiastic about Java as a language and Android as a framework in which Java code can execute -- he called both "beautiful." He had less kind things to say about J2ME, which he clearly views as a past that Java code needs to be extracted from. The fact that someone thinks there's a market for a tool like J2Android sheds interesting light on a number of issues within the mobile Java world: the economics of a platform with hundreds if not thousands of apps written for obsolete phones, for instance, and the continued failure to really implement "write once, run anywhere," particularly in the mobile space. And then, of course, there's the fact that this company has placed a bet that the unauthorized Dalvik virtual machine is the future of mobile Java, and not JavaFX or the newer iterations of Java ME.
We will have to wait and see exactly how much pickup J2Android actually sees. The tool isn't actually available on the open market just yet; while Schillings spoke optimistically about "converting 1,000 MIDlets in an afternoon," at the moment they're working with a few providers to transform their back catalogs. So those of you out there hoping to avoid learning how to write Android code may have to wait a while.