Is Application Virtualization Ready For Smartphones?

VMware, at their recent user conference in San Francisco, debuted a new mobile virtualization technology built specifically for smartphones.  As an example, the company demonstrated running Android-based apps on a Windows Mobile smartphone- signifying the potential future of virtualization in the mobile segment.

Trying to duplicate the success of running “virtual machines” in a desktop environment, VMware is trying to solve the problem of developers having to port their applications to numerous mobile platforms.  “People are starting to pick what platform they want to build for, and that’s the only one that they build for,” Srinivas Krishnamurti, VMware’s director of product management and market development said. “From a consumer’s standpoint, what happens is when they buy a phone, they are kind of stuck in an island of apps that are built for just one platform. That’s kind of silly. Why can’t I just run whatever app I want on my phone?”

There’s long been attempts to standardize mobile development, such as making use of Java programming, but most attempts have failed in the end.  The bottom line is that developers want to create one application for the platform they’re comfortable with, and have that application work across all mobile platforms.  Virtualization seems to be the only viable option at this point, as long as everyone agrees on the methodology.  “Over a period of time, we think that once there’s enough virtualization-enabled phones, this could solve the developer program,” Krishnamurti said.

The company demonstrated its technology using a prototype Texas Instruments device, but said that it’s working closely with handset manufacturers to get the technology out there.  The company admitted that it will likely be two to three years before the technology could become mainstream.

This brings up another potential roadblock from the likes of Apple and others that will undoubtedly be apprehensive about letting other platform’s applications run on their own.  But, Apple finally started to allow Windows applications to run on its Mac OS using virtualization for the desktop, so maybe the same will be true for mobile- just not anytime soon.

It’s an interesting concept, and one that will change the outlook of mobile application development indefinitely- though it’s likely several years away, with several hurdles to overcome.  VMware has proven very successful with its techniques, and hopefully the mobile industry will embrace its vision as well.