What's behind BREW?

Thanks to Qualcomm and Oracle's recently announced deal, BREW users can look forward to using enterprise database applications on their mobile phones and PDAs.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
When you think of applications for mobile phones, you probably think about games. And for the most part, there's a lot of truth to that. But thanks to Qualcomm and Oracle's recently announced deal, BREW users can look forward to using enterprise database applications on their mobile phones and PDAs.

Of course, you won't be able to run detailed financial analyses from your cell phone, but you will be able to do such things as checking on current inventory and prices to give accurate, on-the-spot quotes to a potential customer.

BREW-enabled devices will be able to do this by using the Oracle 9i Lite database with BREW. On the back end, Oracle 9i Application Server enables client-side applications to synchronise data with corporate servers over the air or using a cradle. You can then use BREW, which includes its own BREW Distribution System, to install, recall, and update not only the data but also the mobile BREW/9i Lite applications.

So, for example, if your company decides to add a color field to the inventory information, you could update not only your database, but your application while moving from customer to customer. In practice, this means that when you next make a sale, you could specify colour without needing to manually update the program.

But that's in the late 2002/early 2003 future. In the near term, BREW 2.0, released on June 4, brings improved HTML, XHTML, cHTML, SSL, and HTTPS Web support, along with better graphics and multimedia support than BREW 1.0. Therefore, it seems likely that many of the next generation of applications will use Web-based interfaces to connect to existing Web sites.

There's hope for a strong market in BREW-based business applications, but at the moment, it appears games and entertainment are up first. Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) looks like it will be one of the first to market with BREW-based games like Wheel of Fortune Online and Jeopardy Online. This follows the Korean market, where the most popular applications offered by KTF, a BREW-enabled carrier, are games.

That isn't to say that there are no business-based BREW applications. Verizon already offers a local directory service, flight information, expense reports, and a measurement conversion program with its BREW-enabled devices. Looking ahead, Forbes.com and SmartServ's Forbes.com Wireless will bring stock quotes and news to BREW handheld users within the next quarter.

However, Sun's Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) and the Symbian OS also have these kinds of applications, making BREW a late entry to a race that's already being run. But fully functional enterprise applications for these platforms and BREW are still a ways off, with delivery dates toward the end of 2002. In the meantime, the battle for the king of the business handset-operating environment among BREW, J2ME, and Symbian OSes is still wide open.

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