Towards device independent content: WAP, the Web, and beyond

Input paper to the W3C/WAP Web Device Independent Authoring workshop by Ericsson.

Author: Toni Penttinen

1. Introduction: Ericsson and device-independence

Ericsson is the leading supplier of the new telecoms world, developing communications infrastructure, service platforms and terminals for the next generation of networks as well as for all existing mobile systems. We foresee a future where we will have an even wider range of devices and possible services, many of which may not involve humans (for instance, telematic services).

We hope that the workshop will enable us to achieve an understanding of the requirements of this future environment when it comes to the handling of converged information, and assist the WAP Forum and the W3C in achieving a consensus about the way forward, which we can then use to assist our customers in enabling a new generation of services for the end-users.

2. Towards a definition of device-independence

Ericsson provides a range of data-capable terminals: Smart phones (featuring, for instance, SMS communication), feature phones (with WAP browsing capabilities, but otherwise not very different from an ordinary phone), and communicators (with more advanced capabilities, such as calendar and simple word processing - but still integrated on a mobile communications platform). The Communicators feature a traditional web browser as well as a WAP browser.

Two factors constrain devices containing only WAP browsers: Form factor and price point. We want to be able to offer consumers a rich, yet affordable experience, and the price pressure in the consumer marketplace is considerable. Any additional functionality will come only at extra cost. This, in our view, is one strong motivator for different terminal capabilities in the future. Another is different interaction models, such as voice input.

We have been driving the work in the CC/PP working group in the W3C, to achieve a mechanism that allows us to describe the capabilities of these future devices in a way that will integrate with future information systems. The CC/PP work is important to us, in that it helps us to generate an optimized presentation for each device, depending on its capabilities and the users preferences.

However, content negotiation is not very useful if there is no content to negotiate about. If the same version of content is to be presented on all devices, regardless of their capabilities, and only the style is to be changed, this may drastically affect the presentation abilities. The cheapest devices on the market will most likely continue to have restricted presentation capabilities, and may not have enough memory to receive a long web document. This means that for many of these devices, style changes of one single content set is not an option.  The convergence of WAP and the Web, and specifically WML and XHTML must be seen in this light. The Internet is one of the greatest information resources created in human history, and the mission of the WAP Forum is to bring it to the mobile environment, together with the telephony services that historically has been the single greatest enabler for person-to-person communication. Integrating information and communication, and enabling a converged environment where all information and all means of communication can be made available to all users everywhere, is the long-term goal of our work in the WAP Forum.

In this light, many capabilities of traditional web browsers may not be sufficient. One single XHTML version may satisfy most web users, but may not satisfy users of WAP and voice devices. Adaptations to specific optimizations will also be possible, for instance to attach a device-specific style sheet (as long as there is a one-to-one relationship between client and server, there is little or no additional cost in terms of network use and computation to achieve these). Our experiences in developing the Telstra guidelines clearly demonstrate the difficulty in satisfying several different terminals with one content set, even when it is as strictly specified as the WAG environment.  Instead, we foresee an environment where content is transformed from one single canonical version into multiple specific versions. Our WAP Application Server product already uses CC/PP to achieve these transformations, taking content from a database and using templates transforms it to presentations which are optimized both with regard to presentation and with regard to navigation. Our experiences with the WAP Application Server might be useful for the future work on guidelines for content design.

This also holds true for new service types. Position-dependent information, and even more contextualized information, has the potential to be as revolutionary as the world wide web was when it was released. Information services without human involvement, such as telematic services, also have a vast and unrealized potential. We hope that the proposed guidelines will take authoring for these, as well as automated content generation for automatic content consumption, into account.

3. Conclusion and possible future contributions

Ericsson has a gained a great deal of experience in this field together with our network operator and service provider partners, as well as in the terminal manufacture area. We hope to be able to use this in working with any group that is created as the result of this workshop, creating a set of simple guidelines that enables content authors on the Internet to make their content accessible to a range of devices, and enables the web content we have today to be made accessible in new devices and by a range of new services.