The Java Language: Is It Driving Sales Of Smart Cards?
When will smart cards become more widely adopted? Two industry members say the Java programming language may help smart cards become as common as credit cards.
The Java programming language will provide a major boost to smart card use in North America, according to two industry members. Historically, smart card use in North America has fallen short of analysts' expectations.
Smart cards first have to be programmed – i.e., applications have be "written" for them – before they can be used in the field. Java, developed by Sun Microsystems, is an object-oriented programming language that can be used to write smart card applications, including electronic purse and security.
Java was originally developed as a programming language for the PC industry. However, about two years ago, developers also figured out how to make smart cards understand Java. One reason for this development is that Java is an open programming language.
To help VARs understand the impact of Java on smart cards, Business Systems Magazine surveyed two industry members. We spoke with Jack MacKeen, vice president, Smart Cards & Terminals, Americas, for Bull HN Information Systems, Inc. (Billerica, MA).
We also interviewed Tom Lebsack, director of marketing, multi-applications for Schlumberger Smart Cards & Terminals (Austin, TX), the originators of Java card. Bull and Schlumberger manufacture smart cards.
Says MacKeen, "Bull firmly believes that Java is going to be the impetus that finally brings widespread acceptance of smart card technology to North America."
Why You Should Care About Java
In the past, each smart card company, such as Bull or Schlumberger, had its own proprietary programming language. Now, however, because smart card applications can be written in an open language such as Java, the industry will realize several benefits. It is these benefits, Lebsack and MacKeen contend, that will facilitate smart card use:
Additional smart card functionality - Previous generations of smart cards – not written in Java - could offer only specific, and limited, functionality, MacKeen says. "In the past, a smart card developed for electronic payment couldn't also be used for security purposes," MacKeen says.
Conversely, smart cards programmed in Java can accommodate multiple applications, Lebsack says. "For example, a Java smart card can be used in a frequent flyer program, and for electronic purse," Lebsack adds. "The information for each of those applications can be contained separately - and securely - on the card. That hasn't been possible with smart cards programmed in other languages."
Re-programmability – In the past, once a smart card application became outdated, the cards were thrown out. "It was like throwing money away," MacKeen adds. "But there wasn't another alternative."
That is not true of Java smart cards, however. Should a Java-card application become outdated, the developer can simply write a new application for the same cards. Or, the developer can add new and additional functionality to the original application.
Shorter development times – Developing a smart card application used to take up to 14 weeks, according to MacKeen. And after development, the process of making the cards with the application installed, and validating the entire system, could take many months.
However, with Java, development times can be cut by up to 75%. Adds Lebsack, "It's been expensive to introduce smart card applications because the development time has been lengthy. And that expense has hindered the growth of smart cards."
Universal acceptance – Previously, it was difficult for VARs to understand several proprietary programming languages, Lebsack says.
Because Java is an industry-standard language, VARs don't have to learn other languages. "The fact that Java is becoming universally accepted will boost the use of smart cards," Lebsack concludes.