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HipLogic Brings Virtualization to the Mobile Phone

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Newly christened HipLogic, which was formerly known as Numobiq, today launched a software development kit for its cell phone virtualization platform. The company’s product demo looks like several other mobile phone personalization efforts, but is actually a virtual machine running on top of the existing mobile operating system. The end goal, according to Mark Young, HipLogic’s CTO and founder, is to create applications that can truly interact with phones and each other, bringing the same level of functionality to millions of other phones as the iPhone has and the Android will.

So far, it’s hard to judge how successful the three-year-old HipLogic will be with its mission, but it raised $4.5 million last January from Benchmark Capital and has ported its Java-based virtual machine to the Windows, Linux, S60 and UIQ mobile operating systems (BREW and RIM will be next). Developers can write applications for the HipLogic virtual machine and have them run on any phones using those operating systems, provided the phone has the HipMobile virtual machine loaded on it.

Young says the company will announce applications as well as a download for consumers in the first quarter of next year. Until then he’s being tight-lipped about whether the company has signed any operators as customers, as well as who might offer content on the HipLogic platform.

Other companies intent on bringing virtualization to mobile phones include Adobe with its Flash efforts, Opera, and startup VirtualLogix. (Adobe with its Flash Lite efforts and Opera have similar designs using their own technologies.) Since virtualization helps make the more than 1 billion mobile phones out there that aren’t smartphones behave more like smartphones, it’s a promising area for consumers intent on getting more features, and carriers hoping for more data revenue.

9 Responses to “HipLogic Brings Virtualization to the Mobile Phone”

  1. Tom – doesn’t sound harsh at all. I’m a developer before anything else, and you pretty well characterized the state of the mobile union. Let me try to clarify a few points for you with some more background and my perspective.

    I’ve been spending all my time lately with the major content/brand owners in North America & Europe. They are incredibly frustrated. Several have spent millions of dollars on MVNOs – trying to get a compelling brand experience on mobile only to fail miserably because they didn’t have the right technology. All have tried J2ME and are generally disgusted. The development matrix and deployment are so broken that their internal development costs are enormous in order to accomplish anything noteworthy. Their desire is to create something even more meaningful (than J2ME) but can’t.

    Sun is already out – FX mobile is shelved (at least the re-brand of the SAVAJ acquisition – announced at this year’s JavaOne). If anything sees light of day it will be some lightweight FX script on top of existing J2ME – same limitations there.

    Flash is quasi-interesting, in that Adobe has had success getting it deployed, but it is in desperate need of an application model, phone feature support (with a security model), and multitasking to name a few. I don’t see any of those things except for maybe a few phone features happening anytime soon. Some of those brands I spoke of have in fact used Flash as well just to try to do something nice, and are still looking for a solution. Japan is a good example here, having had Flash deployed for several years now.

    The browser (AJAX/Gears/etc.) is the lowest common denominator, and we certainly don’t think or want that to go away. Its great for what it does. Again all those brands already have a mobile website – and yet they are still looking for another solution. The browser is probably the least capable of all in terms of a rich experience – see the video we released as part of our announcement for reference (its on our website). Even that video doesn’t show what we can really do – as we can create any always-on, phonetop experience – and give the consumer the ability to choose the one they want.

    After all that though, I agree with you that to expect consumers to download a platform is asking too much. Some will of course, but not on the scale that would make it interesting to us except maybe just to start. What’s missed is that our platform is portable across all OSs including RTOSs (feature phones), just like we did with J2ME while at Sun. That is what we are after. We have an even better value proposition this time around that we didn’t have with J2ME, and we’ll reveal more about how we’re doing it when we launch in Q1.

    For now, we unveiled a preview of the platform because frankly I think as developers we’re all tired of this industry creating technology without the input of folks trying to create real content and solve real problems (I know I am – and I was spec lead for J2ME Web Services).

    We don’t expect mobile developers to drop what they’re doing and switch to a (currently) non-available platform, but we wanted to at least hear (publicly, in addition to our private partners) about what people would like to see if someone could come along and solve this big mess we have today in mobile. There’s a lot more to what we’ve done than technology (that’s the easy part) – like user experience, personalization, deployment, discovery, monetization, network optimization, etc. All those details will be revealed in due course – but this announcement is just about the technology preview.

    Thanks for reading,

    – Mark

  2. Hi,

    From what I can see, this is could be seen as in competition with a lot of platforms:

    1) J2ME – which whilst not ideal, is the only platform capable of addressing those “billion devices which aren’t smartphones” mentioned in the article as it is actually installed on them.

    2) Scriptable web sites eg. AJAX – supported by only a limited subset of mobile browsers, but growing (with widespread manufacturer and operator backing) and (loosely) standards-based, which will one day address feature phones and eventually the low-end. The J2ME-based Opera Mini is helping drive a limited version of this on the low-end.

    3) Google Gears, a browser plugin extension which allows AJAX apps to run offline – addressing one of the biggest problems with AJAX apps vs. J2ME fat clients. Sadly this is limited to user-installed downloads for a limited selection of smartphones (exactly as HipLogic is in fact), and Google are not pursuing a strategy of getting manufacturers to bundle the plugin so it will remain a niche within smartphones for the forseeable future (Google: please change this!).

    4) Sun’s JavaFX – which has been in development for some years, and has no userbase and no current manufacturer and operator partners (much like HipLogic).

    5) Microsoft’s Silverlight – which like JavaFX wants to be a web runtime, but unlike JavaFX and HipLogic it will actually be pre-installed (on Windows Mobile and future Nokia S60 handsets), so a user won’t need to download it manually. That’s a small group of potential users though.

    6) Adobe’s Flash (Lite) – a web runtime that actually ships pre-installed on feature phones as well as smartphones, with some improvements (vector graphics, developer tools) and some drawbacks (fewer handsets, less power) than J2ME.

    As stated in the article, Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android platform are also in some ways competitors to HipLogic and the others. J2ME is a quick and easy port to Android, whilst iPhone code is utterly different and requires a ground up rewrite; HipLogic don’t state whether Android is a platform being targetted in future, but iPhone cannot ever be without a change in the development T&Cs (as Sun and Adobe found out).

    Whilst HipLogic may well provide advantages to developers over J2ME, it currently has very few potential end users when compared to J2ME’s billion or so, and those sorts of differences matter to a commercial developer more than funky development tools. This puts it more into competition with the other five platforms which are all “future contendors”, with quite wide variance in their current and future pledged support. Again, as a developer, I have to look at the potential future market when considering future development platforms – and here AJAX and Flash are looking like the clear winners because they are preinstalled and so have a chance of hitting critical mass. Users simply don’t download platforms, and developers can’t afford to support platforms that don’t have users – Mark I’d love to hear how you plan to solve this ahead of Adobe, Sun, Microsoft and the web?

    Sorry if this all sounds unneccessarily harsh, but there seem to be a huge number of companies trying to bring out new platforms for developers such as myself, without addressing the core dynamics of the market: platforms die without users; normal users don’t care about platforms; therefore a platform cannot address normal users without preinstallation, and even taking the preinstallation route the platform will require years to reach the mainstream because of hardware and firmware development timelines and user upgrade cycles (see J2ME and Flash Lite for examples). Along the way, every successful platform – including AJAX, Flash Lite and J2ME – becomes fragmented because software platforms do not sell handsets, sexy cases with the latest specs sell handsets, so QA takes a backseat to marketing and the target screen sizes etc keep changing.

    In the meantime I think mobile software developers will just continue to address actual real existing end users with the limited technologies that are available. Of course, please feel free to explain how this assessment is wrong!

    Best regards,


  3. At City Live we use a similar approach. We developed a format describing mobile applications ( which focuses on ease of development. We even offer our own IDE for free. We then have the option to crosscompile these applications directly into J2ME/WiMo/Flash applications or to run them inside a runtime (see
    Like Mark, we believe in bringing cool, user generated mobile apps to the masses.
    Good luck Mark!

  4. It is in fact a new virtual machine which integrates directly on top of the mobile OS. It is portable across all mobile OSs, just like J2ME. It is not built on top of J2ME however, as doing so has too many drawbacks to be worthwhile. Namely, if J2ME could deliver the experience we were after we would be using it – as no one understands J2ME better than us (we wrote it while working at Sun).

    This time around we are directly addressing the content experience by consumers, the development & deployment experience by developers, and the initiatives & efficiencies needed by operators & oems.

    Mark Young
    HipLogic CTO / Founder

  5. I am sorry but it sounds like a runtime, more than a virtual machine. So they will deploy a runtime on top of anothe runtime (J2ME)? This is a lot of resource overhead, when people could just use J2ME in the millions of devices already out there that can run those applets.