Their plans have the blessing of the committee overseeing Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) and are based on two Java Specification Requests, one for lower-end devices and another for higher-end phones and smart phones used by professionals.
Nokia and Vodafone declined to characterize their move as a reaction to Java fragmentation, a criticism that is sometimes leveled at the widely used programming language created by Sun Microsystems.
"The underlying issue is device-platform fragmentation," said Paul Davey, strategy relationships executive for Vodafone. "Each device has a different Java implementation, and developers have had to rewrite for each different handset. This is not a Java issue but a device-level issue."
Mauri Metsaranta, director of software platforms marketing at Nokia, said the initiative "will take away uncertainty for developers and device manufacturers. (Such a plan) has not been in place as much as the industry would have wished."
The alliance of these two giants of mobile has been welcomed by competitors such as Orange, Siemens, Sony Ericsson, T-Mobile and Sun.
Analysts are also reacting positively to the move. Jessica Figueras, practice leader for telecommunications and IT at Ovum, is backing it with some caveats.
"Clearly, the problem with J2ME is that it is very fragmented, but that is not for no reason. Each player wanted to satisfy their individual needs, and the business model for Java allowed that to happen," she told Silicon.com. "But standards by themselves won't do it."
She and others have pointed out that developers need to be better supported, especially by operators. Nokia has done a decent job, Figueras said, but "most manufacturers have been pretty abysmal."
Nokia and Vodafone said that the effects of this Java push will be felt by this time next year, meaning there should be a supply of new handsets by the fourth quarter of 2005.
Vodafone, with its Live service, and others have had success with Java games on handsets, but the latest development is a recognition that there has to be a more concerted effort for enterprise applications to be taken to devices, in part to help pay back long-term investments in next-generation networks.
Tony Hallett of Silicon.com reported from London.