Mobile devices go multimedia

Handset makers and software developers team to bring new functionality to handsets and PDAs

Mobile phone operators and manufacturers are moving to turn wireless handsets into multimedia terminals, with several announcements at the CeBIT electronics show this week.

Motorola, Ericsson and Siemens, three of the leading handset manufacturers, are aiming to give the mobile gaming industry a shot in the arm by developing a common, open platform for developers. The platform will be built on existing standards, the companies say, and aims to have specifications for application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) by the third quarter.

"We're seeing that developers of mobile games are resorting to writing their own platforms or having to multiply the efforts to support many platforms," stated Tim Krauskopf, a vice president for Motorola's Internet Software and Content Group. "As a result, costs are increasing and distribution options are limited."

A common platform could simplify matters for developers and network operators alike by giving everyone a common frame of reference. Such a platform could be especially useful for developers who already have content for other platforms and don't want to re-invent the wheel in order to port to wireless.

"Anything that is a catalyst for mobile gaming getting off the ground is good for all developers," Julian Swallow, chief executive of UK mobile game developer Purple Software, told ZDNet UK. "This could help a lot of developers figure out how to get their content onto wireless."

The idea of playing Solitaire on a tiny mobile screen may not seem appealing, but more advanced terminals and higher-bandwidth connectivity are expected to boost the mobile-gaming market to $3.5bn in the next four years, Swallow says.

In the meantime, Japan's J-Phone and the UK's Parallel Graphics are developing software to enable more advanced graphics on mobile devices.

J-Phone, a competitor to NTT DoCoMo with 9.73 million Japanese subscribers, announced on Friday a new series of handsets with 3D display capability. J-Phone is battling against DoCoMo's popular i-mode wireless online service, which has attracted more than 17 million subscribers, largely on the basis of downloadable games and other amusements, and believes the 3D phones will get the attention of Japan's gadget-crazed consumers.

"Japanese consumers, particularly those in the important youth segment, have consistently rewarded operators delivering high quality, innovative and lively content," stated Philip Marnick, managing director of service planning at J-Phone. "We expect that the launch later this year of handsets that incorporate 3D graphics will contribute to further growth in subscribers and market share."

Parallel Graphics on Friday released the latest beta version of Pocket Cortona, a 3D viewer for handheld computers based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system. Parallel Graphics is one of the leading 3D software companies, and its software can be used for virtual field manuals, games and e-commerce.

The software could be most useful for engineers who need ready access to CAD models. "It turns any Pocket PC device into a tool that can be used to share mechanical designs in 3D with others, no matter where you happen to be, without having to lug around a 10-pound laptop," said Peter Sheerin, senior technical editor of Cadence Magazine, in a statement.

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