In what looks like one in the eye for Microsoft Corp’s Windows CE, consumer and telecommunications companies Alcatel NV, Northern Telecom Ltd and Samsung Electronics Co have all signed up with Sun Microsystems Inc to use PersonalJava, the Java platform for consumer devices, for their of web-connectable telephones. The webphones, demonstrated at the Java Internet Business Expo in New York yesterday, are full-featured telephones with video screens plus keyboards, enabling users to send e-mail, access the internet and browse the web, with the PersonalJava software used as the means for connecting to and downloading from any network, including the internet. The devices will also support the Java Card set of application programming interfaces for Smart Cards, and connect up with printers. They are expected to sell for price tags somewhere below $500. Java applets written to run on the webphones could perform such tasks as displaying a company address book directory, personal stock portfolios or downloading the weather conditions at a travel destination. Alcatel, of course has had plenty of experience of this type of thing through its involvement with the proprietary Minitel system in France. The Canadian telecoms giant Nortel is working on its webphone strategy with partner Matra Communication SA. But consumer firm Samsung, with its Web Video Phone with Java, looked to have the most advanced device at yesterday’s demonstrations, offering video conferencing and internet telephony in addition to other services. All the companies showed off user interfaces designed for ease of use, and cited this as one of the main reasons for opting for PersonalJava rather than Windows CE. CE, they said, enforces use of Microsoft’s user interface rather than leaving the choice open. The three firms, which boast seven million customers between them with their current ranges of screenphones, and a combined $110bn worth of business in the telecommunications and consumer industries annually, plan to get beta versions of their hardware out by early 1998, with first shipments during the second quarter. PersonalJava was announced in April (CI No 3,135), and the specification was published last month (CI No 3,195). The companies say they’ll also develop wireless versions of their phones, Alacatel using the European GSM digital cellular standard and Nortel both GSM and the US PCS digital cellular protocol. There’ll be a version of Personal Java supporting GSM out next year.
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