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The "Wireless Web"

Before going into detail about the "wireless Web," let me first say that many in the wireless industry actually hate this term! The implication is that the user can grab a WAP device and quickly surf his/her way to the desired information. The current reality is much different, unfortunately. Every day, more and more WAP sites go up—and many are quite useful—but the user interface is lacking (to be polite) and the three-punch method of entering text is severely limiting. As progress is made, many of these difficulties will be solved—but at this point it's unfair to draw a direct correlation between the World Wide Web and a mythical "wireless Web." Having said that, how do you go about deploying Web content for wireless devices?

The most popular content-display technology at this time is the Wireless Application Protocol, or WAP (visit http://www.wapforum.org/ for more information). WAP supports information display through its Wireless Markup Language (WML) and its scripting language, WMLScript. (For more information on either of these, read Chris Bennett's and Frank Coyle's WAP tutorial on InformIT.) Other popular methods for delivering HTML (or HTML-like) content to mobile devices include the Palm.net service, which is available for Palm VII and OmniSky users, and the AvantGo service, which is available for PalmOS, Windows CE, and WAP users. Finally, NTT DoCoMo's i-Mode service (available in Tokyo and parts of Japan) uses an HTML subset known as cHTML (for compact HTML). It should also be noted that an upgrade path has been designed so that i-Mode and WAP will both eventually use XHTML for the markup.

Each of these technologies has its limitations. WAP's biggest limitation may be that it's a protocol that appears to be in flux. Some call it proprietary—others see it shifting as times moves on (case in point: the already-announced move to XHTML). Many people make the mistake of connecting a phone's user interface/data input limitations with WAP, but keep in mind that WAP browsers are available for the PalmOS, Windows CE, and Symbian platforms. You can even browse WAP sites from your desktop using one of the popular WAP emulators! The Palm.net service works great…if you can get it. It currently runs on the Cingular Interactive network (formerly known as BellSouth Wireless Data), and coverage is not available for the entire country. It also requires a Palm VII or an OmniSky Palm V device and uses its own proprietary HTML subset. AvantGo is a nice solution for content distribution, but doesn't support forms development or any sort of database access. i-Mode has been extremely popular, but is available only from NTT DoCoMo at this time.

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