MWI Team Blog

Dispatches from members of the W3C Mobile Web Initiative Team

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MWI: Leading Mobile Web Access to Its Full Potential — 14 June 2007

Recently I was forced to present my thoughts on the Mobile Web Initiative in a more coherent from than the continuous chit-chat of e-mails, online chats, phone conferences, face-to-face meetings and blog entries that usually characterizes our discourse. So here's a text that for that purpose, describing the promise and potential of the mobile Web access, and what W3C's Mobile Web Initiative is contributing to realizing this promise - I thought it would be useful to share this with a larger audience. Mobile Web: The Promise Mobile Web access has many advantages. Unlike the traditional “wired” Web, the mobile Web will go where users go. No longer will users have to remember to do something on the Web when they get back to their computer. They can do it immediately, within the context that made them want to use the Web in the first place. With mobile devices, the Web can reach a much wider audience, and at all times in all situations. It has the opportunity to reach into places where wires cannot go, to places previously unthinkable (e.g., providing medical information to mountain rescue scenes) and to accompany everyone as easily as they carry the time in their wristwatches. Mobile Web access is particularly promising in emerging markets where wired networks are underdeveloped. Anecdotal evidence suggests that wireless as primary means of We access plays an important role in developing countries: According to statistics of July 2006, 61% of the BBC’s international WAP users came from Nigeria and 19% from South Africa. (“BBC Wap use flourishing in Africa”, BBC News, 2006). Mobile Web: Huge Potential As shown in Figure 1, today, around 1.7 billion of the 2.7 billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide have some form of browsing capability. This represents about 25% of a world population of 6.7 billion people. Figure 1: Mobile Browsing: A significant proportion of subscribers have terminals enabled for browsing. The active user population is rapidly growing, and despite the downward pressure on prices, mobile browsing is a strong revenue generator (Source: Nokia internal market study/MWI, all figures for global market) The number of subscribers with browser-enabled phones exceeds the number of
  • cars (800 million)
  • personal computers (850 million)
  • wired Internet users (1.1 billion)
and even the number of television sets (1.5 billion - Source: “Putting 2.7 billion in context: Mobile phone users”, Tomi Ahonen, 2007). Moreover, the percentage of web-enabled subscribers is predicted to increase significantly in the coming years. As shown in Figure 2, in 2010, there will be three billion subscribers with browsing-enabled phones. Mobile Web: Lacking Use While the huge number of deployed browser-enabled phones indicate a large potential for mobile Web access, only a minority of the subscribers today actually use their phone to access the Web (see bar “Active Browsers” in Figure 1). There are about 200 million active browsers today, and this number is expected to rise to 500 million by 2010. Still, this represents about 50% of today’s active wired Internet users, which is non-negligible. As a consequence of the lack of usage, in 2010, “households with a Web-enabled phone that don’t buy mobile data services” constitute the largest of several “revenue gaps” identified by Forrester (see Figure 2). Revenue gap Figure 2: Forrester Revenue gaps The Forrester numbers are for the US market. In Europe, the revenue gap may be even higher, since use of Web browsing in many countries of the European community was lagging the use in Japan, South Korea and even the USA in 2005 (see Figure 3). Mobile browing statistics world-wide Figure 3: Europe lagging in Wireless Web Access W3C’s Mobile Web Initiative Today, many of the technical problems of early mobile Web access solutions have been solved. Contemporary phones have color screens of reasonable size that allow display of Web information. Moreover, the bandwidth of mobile networks has increased, and is expected to increase even further with mobile and wireless networks beyond 3G. The W3C and its members have established the Mobile Web Initiative (MWI) to tackle two of the main remaining challenges that European mobile Web access is facing today:
  • Lack of Usability: Mobile phone users in Europe often find that their favourite Web sites are not as easy to use on their mobile phone as on their desktop device.
  • Lack of Interoperability: European content providers have difficulties providing mobile Web services that work well on all types and configurations of mobile phones.
Solving these issues requires a concerted effort of key players in the mobile production chain, which are all participating in the W3C:
  • Web content production tool vendors need to support standards in a correct way so that content works independently of the particular handset or browser used by the mobile phone subscriber. Specifically, content production tools should create content that is conformant to the mobileOK mark developed by MWI.
  • Content providers need to follow “best practices” for mobile content that enable a user-friendly mobile Web experience – the content should be conformant to the mobileOK mark.
  • Handset manufacturers need to ensure that descriptions of the capabilities of their devices such as the screen size are readily available so that content providers can use this information to adapt content to specific devices – information about devices should be available through a device description repository. MWI is working on standard-APIs for device description repositories.
  • Browser vendors need to implement Web standards correctly, so that mobile Web content is displayed consistently in different browsers – the browsers should pass MWI-developed test suites.
  • Mobile phone operators need to encourage use of standards when providing access to mobile content – the mobileOK mark and the MWI-developed test suites are tools for this.
by Philipp Hoschka in Current state 2 comments Permalink

Mobile Web: test it, use it — 28 May 2007

We started back in December a Working Group of the Mobile Web Initiative dedicated to testing: the Mobile Web Test Suites Working Group, which I have had the pleasure to co-chair.

If you've ever complained that you couldn't use a specific CSS property on a given range of user agents, if you've ever sworn against a badly broken implementation of Javascript on a mobile device, and if more generally you wish the Mobile Web as a platform was much more reliable than it is today, hopefully this group is part of the solution to your problems!

Indeed, our goal is to help identify the bugs and inconsistencies in existing implementations of the Web technologies through the most efficient tool found in computer science: test suites.

As part of this group, we have been considering two sort of test suites: conformance test suites and a community-based test suite; let me explain these two ideas in more details.

What we call "conformance test suites": basically, a set of files (generally very simple Web pages) that illustrates the various features of the tested technology, and which a user agent should render in a well-defined way; W3C has been developing test suites from some of its technologies, OMA has also been working on some of these.

Our first work item has been to review these existing test suites and evaluate how well they served their purposes. A common problem to these tests suites was the difficulty to go from one test to another, as well as to record the results for each individual test case - when you go through 100+ of these, you don't really want to have to take notes on what worked on what didn't.

So, to solve - at least partially - that issue, we developed a simple system to navigate through and record results from existing test suites - which more or less matches what they call a "test harness" in the field. We have already applied that harness to the CSS Mobile Profile test suite, the SVG Tiny 1.1 test suite and the DOM Level 1 test suite, and started to collect results for a few browsers - mostly from the Working Group participants.

While this harness isn't perfect yet - we would like to add the possibility to start and stop testing sessions, so that a user doesn't feel obligated to go through the full test suite in one shot -, it works reasonably well, and anyone should feel free to start submitting test results using it. The Working Group is also interested in any feedback you might have on that system.

Still on the topic of the conformance test suites, one of our great achievements was to make the DOM Level 1 test suite mobile-friendly: the W3C has very complete test suites for each of the three levels of the Document Object Model specifications (the core of what makes Javascript useful), but they are presented in a very desktop-oriented fashion: frames, big scripts to load, heavy network usage, etc.

So we looked at improving that situation, and eventually managed to produce a much more mobile-friendly version of the test suite, while keeping as much automation as possible to make our users' life less tedious - I discovered while looking at the results of that test suite that the DOM engine behind Blazer (Palm's default browser on my phone) and the Netfront browser on my PSP was mostly the same - they fail more or less exactly on the same tests!

Beyond all this work on conformance test suites, we have started to work on quite different scheme as well: what I called above a "community-based test suite". The idea behind this is to build a test suite from test cases submitted by the community, for the community.

In other words, we are setting up a framework that will allow anyone out there (but most likely Web developers, standard evangelists, but maybe also operators) to create test cases that illustrate a specific technology or the combination of several technologies; once reviewed by the Working Group, these test cases will be made available so that anyone (in this case, even random mobile web users e.g. frustrated to see that their browsers don't do what they expect) can test whether their mobile web browsers implement correctly or not the feature under test.

I'm hoping that by opening such a framework, we will be able to create a greater incentive for browsers vendors to improve the quality of their implementations, but also more directly to help Web developers know what features are safe to use on as many user agents as possible, what techniques allows to circumvent bugs in existing implementations, etc. We surveyed the community a few months ago on the interest for such a framework, and the results were fairly positive over all.

Given the rather interesting effect the ACID2 test developed by the WaSP had on the desktop browser market, I think this group can create many opportunities to improve the interoperability situation in the mobile browser space; if you're interested to follow what's going on, feel free to subscribe to our publicly archived mailing list public-mwts@w3.org; if you think you can contribute to this work, please get in touch with me (dom@w3.org) as you may be eligible to become an Invited Expert in the group.

by Dominique Hazael-Massieux in Current state, Technical Permalink

Mobile and the Web - World Wide — 25 April 2007

Thinking about what I've been doing in recent weeks, the most appropriate title for my first blog entry on the MWI Team Blog seemed to be "Mobile and the Web - World Wide". Lots of discussions and thinking about the role of mobile Web access in areas of the world where direct W3C participation is currently lacking. First, there was my trip to South Korea, where I had the honor to provide a keynote for the opening ceremony of the "Mobile Web 2.0 Forum". The room was packed - easily 400 to 500 people. In my talk, I explained why W3C was doing work in mobile in the first place, talked about our great collaboration with OMA in the area of mobile Web, and also spoke a little bit about fun things you can do when the work of the Ubiquitous Web Applications WG comes to fruition. Overall, a very impressive event! And it was good to see the MWI Best Practices flipcards prominently featured Afterwards, I thought a lot about one of the conversations I had during this event: an engineer working for what seemed to be a smaller mobile browser vendor expressed his concern about the apparent change of direction in the HTML area: away from "clean" XHTML, and towards standardizing the "mess" that's already out there. That, of course, makes things harder for mobile browser vendors that up to now could rely on the comparatively simple XTHML standard, at least in the mobile space. On the other hand, he acknowledged the trend to provide "full browsers" on mobile phones as well, but didn't seem to think that this was a very satisfying solution technically. Coming back, I had a longer conversation with one of my colleagues who noticed that mobile browser folks (and others from the mobile community) seem to be pretty absent from the current list of 300 or so members of the new HTML WG. Joining the WG is actually not that hard, even if your are not working for a W3C member company - see how to join info. Coming back to the "world wide" theme, I'm spending time on putting together some concrete ideas on taking our work on mobile Web in Developing Countries to the next step by looking into EU funding opportunities for this area (but also in other areas). Once the EU proposals are "in the mail", I'm off to Banff (Canada) for W3C's Advisory Council meeting - talking about Banff, if you are going to the Web conference, make sure you don't miss the special session on mobile Web in the W3C track!
by Philipp Hoschka in Current state Permalink

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Contacts: Dominique Hazael-Massieux