Open Source Phones

I want to program my phone!

Cellular telephones are powered by increasingly powerful and sophisticated embedded microprocessor systems, fully capable of running interesting software. And naturally, being a programmer, I want to be able to write software that runs on my phone. Being an Open Source programmer by profession and by choice, I naturally would prefer to get a phone that runs Linux. Sadly, none are yet offered by the cellular telephone companies in Los Angeles.

J2ME is real

While nobody was paying attention, Java seems to have really succeeded: nearly all new phones include Java support. So, even though I'd really rather write Linux apps, it looks like the reality is that Java is the platform of choice if you want to write programs for phones today. The flavor of Java supported on phones is called J2ME.

Here are a few resources I've run into for people getting into J2ME development:

Finding a Java phone with a camera

My requirements are simple: the phone has to have a megapixel camera, it has to accept large memory cards of some sort, and it has to support an up-to-date J2ME environment. There are four main cellular telephone companies in Los Angeles. I checked each one to see if they supported user development of Java applications. The results, worst first / best last:

Examples of cool java apps

One small success story is a midlet named midpssh; it lets you log into a remote computer via ssh. It's at and does in fact run on at least one of those phones. (How one types commands given the twelve-key keyboards on the phones is another question...)


Pressing multiple keys for each letter will get old fast if using ssh to log into a remote computer. Does anyone know of a good mobile keyboard for any of these phones?

Cost to develop?

I'm still trying to figure out how much it'd cost to actually program them. Registering with the developer sites is free, and the SDKs are generally a free download. But it costs $400 to get a certificate that lets you sign midlets, and there might be other hidden charges. In their Developer Forums, forum "Developer Discount Service Plan", topic "Independent Developers and Sprint PCS", there were complains by some developers that it was costing them $3000/year. (Presumably for $60/phone/month times four phones.)

Irate Developers

It seems the developer boards at all of these sites are full of angry developers. For instance, everybody's waiting for access to the GPS built into some phones, but none of the phone companies wants to give access to GPS via J2ME. (Perhaps the phones don't do true GPS, and need assistance from the network towers that isn't present yet?)

Last update: Sun Aug 28 2005