Application virtualization comes to smartphones

VMware has made it possible for smartphones to use any software application on any handset.
Written by Brad Howarth, Contributor

VMware is in the early stages of embedding its technology into a range of smartphones, which will enable them to connect to PCs and run applications designed for other mobile phones.

At VMware's annual user conference in San Francisco, the company's director of product management and market development, Srinivas Krishnamurti, demonstrated running an application built for Android on a Windows mobile phone.

Krishnamurti said mobile phone application developers have long complained about having to create different versions of applications for a wide range of handset operating systems, including the iPhone, Android, Windows and Symbian.

"People are starting to pick what platform they want to build for, and that's the only one that they build for," Krishnamurti said. "From a consumer's standpoint, what happens is when they buy a phone, they are kind of stuck in an island of apps that are built for just one platform. That's kind of silly. Why can't I just run whatever app I want on my phone?"

Operating applications in a virtual machine on a handset will add another layer of security. Phones will also be able to run completely different profiles, such as one for business applications and another for personal use.

"One use case that we hear about is [separation] of home and work," said Krishnamurti. "Apple probably still won't like it, but it might get some traction in the enterprise market more so than just in the consumer space."

However, other attempts to standardize application development on phones, including use of the Java programming language, have failed.

"Over a period of time, we think that once there's enough virtualization-enabled phones, this could solve the developer program," Krishnamurti said.

While the demonstration used a prototype handset from Texas Instruments, Krishnamurti said VMware is working closely with handset manufacturers now, but added the initiative may be two or three years from becoming mainstream.

"We're continuing to figure out what is the right use case, and work with the community to make it happen," Krishnamurti said. "We are working in terms of putting out hypervisors on some phones, but unfortunately we are not allowed to talk about them."

Krishnamurti said while it is currently unlikely that Apple will support a technology that would allow non-Apple applications to run on the iPhone, he believes the company may come around eventually, as seen in its decision to allow Windows applications to run on the Macintosh operating system in a virtual machine.

Thin-client maker Wyse also demonstrated an application called PocketCloud, which enables iPhone users to access and operate a PC using VMware and even surf the web in IE.

"This gives you the ability to visit websites that Apple's Safari doesn't render properly," said Wyse's chief marketing and strategy officer, Jeff McNaught.

McNaught acknowledged that performing desktop tasks on a mobile phone screen could be an unsatisfactory experience, but said this becomes less of a problem when the phone can be plugged into an external keyboard and screen. When used in this way, a mobile phone could eliminate the need for thin-client computers.

This article was first published as a blog post on ZDNet Australia.

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