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New microbrowser developments promise to open up tons of additional Web content to U.S. consumers for viewing on their wireless phones' small display screens.
Nokia announced plans to market an OEM microbrowser based on the xHTML (eXtensible Hyper Text Markup Language), promoted as stimulating content development for wireless-phone access by making it easy for content developers to reformat Web content for small-screen displays. xHTML, a browser language based on XML rules, has also been endorsed by Motorola, Ericsson and Siemens.
Nokia's microbrowser is also backward-compatible with Web sites written to the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) microbrowser standard, which is also XML-based and is used by around 2,700 Web sites worldwide, according to Pinpoint.com, which provides Web-access infrastructure to wireless-phone carriers. Many of them are in the English language.
Meanwhile, Mitsubishi became the first handset provider to announce plans to offer Microsoft's Mobile Explorer microbrowser, a multimode microbrowser to be available on two Mitsubishi GSM/GPRS phones due in first-quarter 2002. Mobile Explorer lets phones access standard HTML sites, WAP sites, and about 39,500 iMode (cHTML) sites (many in English) that use the iMode standard pioneered by Japan carrier NTT DoCoMo, a major investor in AT&T Wireless.
Microsoft's browser contains the intelligence to strip away graphics and reformat HTML sites for small-screen display, Mitsubishi said.
Such a browser could make HTML content more accessible to wireless users because it doesn't depend on a carrier or third party to operate a proxy server that reformats HTML content for small-screen displays. In addition, third-party operators charge subscription fees on top of a carrier's data fees.
Today, consumers who want wireless HTML access have several options. They could purchase the wireless-enabled Palm VII or Palm VIIx, which connect to a Palm server that accesses HTML sites and reformats them. They also could use Kyocera's Palm-based smartphone, which is equipped with Eudora software that accesses and displays HTML sites, or subscribe to wireless ASP services such as those offered by OmniSky. Those services are intended for use with browsers loaded onto wireless-enabled PDAs and on dedicated two-way wireless-data devices.
Another current option is the use of two CDPD-equipped phones that access AT&T Wireless's PocketNet service, which uses an AT&T server to strip out graphics and reformat text for small screens. AT&T, however, said it doesn't promote the capability because the results are unpredictable for phones' small screens.
Although marketing a multimode microbrowser, Microsoft is most enthusiastic about the potential for XML, which it describes as a single Internet standard intended to be accessible from PCs and compatible wireless devices. XML, said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, is a "universal messaging and data format" that will let "any two devices or applications seamlessly communicate."
In explaining the advantages of XML, Ballmer pointed out that "the Internet has grown up as a set of islands, except for e-mail." But with XML, he said, content providers need only develop content once for display on XML-equipped PCs, TVs, PDAs or wireless phones. An XML-equipped wireless phone, he explained, will "present XML data in a way that makes sense for a phone."
Craig Barrett, Intel president, also believes a single content solution is needed. "Content providers won't create special content for the wireless Internet," but they will create "scalable content" that can be accessed from "multiple access points," he contended.
Moving in that direction, the three leading wireless-phone makers have endorsed xHTML, which will be integrated into the WAP 2.0 specification, scheduled to be officially released in June or July.
Nokia has incorporated xHTML in a dual-mode WAP/xHTML browser whose source code it will market to other handset makers, infrastructure providers and content providers in July. All new Nokia phones to be launched next year will include the browser, which also uses WAP 1.2 to access WAP sites, said Paul Chellgren, Nokia's business development VP.
With XML-based xHTML, content providers write content once, then plug it into different style sheets, some for PCs, others for small-screen devices. xHTML, he claimed, "eliminates the distinction between wireless and wired Web content."
Although xHTML will be included in a WAP 2.0 specification, Nokia forged ahead with its dual-mode browser, and xHTML developers kit, to jump start the market. "Our assumption is that we'll be close to 2.0 and that our browser will get those 2.0 sites, too," Chellgren said.
WAP 2.0 will offer advanced user interfaces, animation, pop-up menus, color screens and increased multimedia functionality, the WAP Forum said. AOL Mobile senior VP Alex Felker said, "The industry's move to provide support for xHTML in their browsers allows content and applications vendors to publish in more robust formats while maintaining backward-compatibility with current WAP content."
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