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Why Can't I Use Java Web Apps on My iPad?

written by: •edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 8/27/2011

With the initial release of iOS for the iPhone back in 2007, Apple omitted support for Java virtual machine, a system for hosting platform-independent web-based apps. This omission has extended to the iPad, to the disappointment of users wanting to access websites that offer Java web apps.

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    Java is a popular technology found in websites, usually as a virtual machine running as an embedded element. A prime example might be a chat window, or perhaps a game that is played in the web browser of a desktop computer.

    The beauty of Java is the use of a virtual machine, enabling the same Java application to run on multiple platforms. As they are platform-independent, Java apps need only be developed and rolled out once.

    Back in 2007, Apple’s former CEO Steve Jobs declared that as no one uses Java, it wouldn’t be included on the iPhone. As a result, no Java support has been included on iOS devices since, including the iPad.

    Yet there are clearly websites offering embedded applications that require a device that has Java installed. On a computer this would be a case of opening the Sun Microsystems website and downloading the Java framework, but for tablet users there isn’t such an easy workaround.

    So how do you run Java web apps on an iPad?

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    What Steve Jobs Said About Java and iOS

    What Steve Jobs Said About Java and iOS In 2007, Apple’s then-CEO Steve Jobs was interviewed about the new iPhone and had quite a few interesting things to say about web technologies as a whole. In particular, he was quite dismissive over the long-term use of Java as a host for web applications.

    “Java’s not worth building in. Nobody uses Java anymore. It’s this big heavyweight ball and chain.”

    This was Jobs’ justification for the fact that the iOS version of Safari would not have a new version of Java developed for it, thereby closing off access to many websites for iPhone (and later, iPad) users.

    What is fascinating about this statement is how wrong Jobs was. At the time he said it, BlackBerry was a massive platform, with thousands of Java apps available. Other mobile platforms such as Symbian and Windows Mobile were also able to run Java apps, giving the impression that Steve Jobs was more interested in retaining control of the App Store as a resource of software that was specifically designed for use on the iOS platform.

    This makes perfect sense, of course; apps are likely to perform better on a device for which they are specifically targeted, and developers creating Java apps for iOS would not be bound by the strict listing requirements of the App Store.

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    What Happens When You Try to Run Java Web Apps

    By blocking Java apps from running on websites that are visited in the Safari browser, Jobs has prevented iPad users from being able to enjoy all manner of interesting online services and applications.

    This is of course disappointing, and the frustration if further compounded when an iPad user opens a web page expecting to be able to use a particular service only to find a message informing them that Java must be installed for the service to be accessed.

    In some ways it is a bit shoddy – iPhones and iPads are supposed to be the pinnacle of consumer electronics, yet here they are unable to run a browser based application.

    Naturally, a lot of people have been quite frustrated by this lack of Java ambition from Apple, and taken matters into their own hands.

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    How Do I Run Java Apps on an iPad?

    The simple answer is to take advantage of a third party browser. Cloud browsing is the term given to the type of a web browser that accesses a browsing session on a remote server, and is often used to circumvent device-specific restrictions such as the lack of Java support on an iPad. A cloud browsing solution exists for iOS devices in the shape of Cloud Browse, available from the App Store and capable of displaying Java-based web apps within web pages. It isn’t a perfect solution and the performance can be a bit sluggish, but it is an option. (If you're having a similar problem access websites that feature Flash games, similar tools are available.)

    If you prefer to go the whole hog and actually install a customized version of Java for your iPad, the alternative answer is to Jailbreak your device.

    Full details on how to Jailbreak an iPad can be found in How to Jailbreak iOS 4.3. Once this process has been performed you will need to visit the Cydia store and search for and download Java.

    After installation, you will find that your device can now access and run Java web applications just like a desktop computer! This might include retro games embedded in a web browser, chat windows or even online calculation applications - the list is endless!