The Java ME nonsense story

Earlier this week Net Market Share released numbers that allegedly show the Java ME operating system is gaining ground at the expense of iOS and especially Android.

Unfortunately the story isn’t true, and I suspect it’s a good example of headline grabbing aimed at those who don’t have deep knowledge of mobile browser statistics; a group that seems to include the entire tech blogging caste.

There’s rather a lot wrong with Net Market Share’s assertion. The most egregious error of all is the contention that Java ME is an operating system. It’s not.

Java ME is a middleware layer that’s supposed to make creating a Java-based app for all OSs supporting it easier. Java ME’s big problem is that it’s not a case of write once, run anywhere, but more like write once, and make it marginally easier to write it elsewhere, too. Still, the relative ease of writing apps for Java ME is not the issue here.

Java ME (or rather, an OS- and device-specific version of Java ME) comes pre-installed with Symbian, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile (and, I think, bada), as well as a host of proprietary feature phone operating systems from Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and the like.

So it could mean that the combined market share of these operating systems is growing. Unfortunately Net Market Share does not mean that: it counts Symbian and BlackBerry separately.

Besides, the combined tech press completely overlooks the fact that Net Market Share’s own numbers clearly show Java ME has lost market share last year. Java ME had 26.80% market share in February, and 21.27% in December. A complex calculation based on my secret and proprietary formulae shows that it lost 5.53% market share this year. Hardly a winner.

Finally, what Net Market Share measures are browser impressions on its member sites. So which browsers do all these Java ME users use? If you compare the OS stats to December’s browser stats it clearly emerges that the Java ME share coincides fairly exactly with the Opera Mini market share.

What is going on is that Opera Mini is slightly on the rise (a trend confirmed by the latest StatCounter numbers), and that Net Market Share counts most of these Opera Minis as running on Java ME.

Now it is notoriously difficult to read out the operating system from Opera Mini’s browser string, and it is true that Java ME is often mentioned. Clearly, Net Market Share has decided to cut some corners, forget about detecting the true OS underlying these Opera Minis, and call them all Java ME. (Compare this to StatCounter, which at least tries to get the true OS right, and says “Unknown” if that’s impossible.)

So all that Net Market Share’s numbers tell us is that Opera Mini is on the rise again. Good news for Opera, but it isn’t that much of a story. Java ME replacing Android sounds much better, and will grab headlines all over the world.

I wish tech reporters would actually study the numbers they report on instead of copying press releases.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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