IBM plans app development tools for small devices

Sensing a budding opportunity among some of its corporate accounts, IBM plans to deliver a series of Java-based tools late in 1999 that will allow it to create applications for a wide range of embedded systems, including handheld devices and cellular phones.

Big Blue will likely release this series of "simple" development tools, which would enable corporate and third-party developers to build any number of applications for everything from handheld computers to automobiles, by the end of 1999, according to Steve Mills, general manager of IBM's software solutions group, and Daniel Sabbah, vice president of application development architecture at IBM.

For instance, developers could write a name and address book application for use with a cell phone, Mills said. Such applications could be written in either Java or Smalltalk languages, he added.

IBM has been building such applications for larger accounts, but now wants to provide users and developers with a series of packaged tools so users can do it themselves.

Some analysts said they believe there is an attractive opportunity for such Java-based applications, but that many of the applications would have more to do with manufacturing control or scientific and engineering uses, and not so much with consumer devices.

Although it is unclear how some of these tools would be packaged, according to one source some would be sold as add-ons to IBM's existing VisualAge for Java and VisualAge for Smalltalk products.

This packaging would allow developers to target lighter weight virtual machines for embedded devices instead of the full-blown Java virtual machine. In addition, some add-ons would be translation utilities for HTML.