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This is the Introduction section of the document. See the DeviceDescriptionLandscape overview.


Web access from mobile devices suffers from problems that make the Web unattractive for most mobile users. W3C's Mobile Web Initiative (MWI) proposes to address these issues through a concerted effort of key players in the mobile value chain, including authoring tool vendors, content providers, handset manufacturers, browser vendors and mobile operators.

The objective of the W3C Mobile Web Initiative is to enable access to the Web from mobile devices. It is recognized that this will generally require adaptation of web content and therefore an understanding of the different characteristics, features, behaviors and limitations of mobile handsets.

Within the MWI, the mission of the Device Description Working Group (DDWG) is to foster the provision of, and access to, these consistent and reliable, Device Descriptions that can be used to help develop and deliver high-quality mobile web applications to the world's mobile devices.

Objective & Scope

This "Landscape document" is designed to describe the current state of the various options that exist for providing Device Descriptions to enable device-aware applications.

It articulates what the W3C and other organizations are doing, or have already done, in this space, and identifies various ways in which those Device Descriptions are being used.

Note that this group recognizes that there are many other use cases for Device Descriptions, and other areas within the mobile industry where they can be applied.

This document does not seek to strongly define how such Device Descriptions should be provided in the future. It lays out descriptions of the technologies and standards that are available today.


This document is to be read by a generally technical audience. In particular, we expect that readers are familiar both with Web and existing mobile technologies. Since the document relates to the use of mobile Device Descriptions for content adaptation, an appreciation of the diversity present in mobile handsets - and the techniques used for adapting content to them - is assumed. More information on this diversity can be found in the Device Independence Working Group [DIWG].

Related groups and organizations

The DDWG coordinates their work with the related efforts within the W3C, including:

  • Web Accessibility Initiative ([WAI])
  • Device Independence Working Group ([DIWG])
  • MWI Best Practices Working Group ([MWBP])

The DDWG is establishing working relationships - based on formal liaisons, if and where appropriate - with certain organizations outside of the W3C, whose activities might impact the Mobile Web Initiative and/or be influenced by it, including:

  • GSM Association ([GSMA])
  • Open Mobile Terminal Platform ([OMTP])
  • Open Mobile Alliance ([OMA])
  • Wireless Universal Resource File ([WURFL])

Many of the above groups (or their members) either provide, specify, or have a need to consume mobile-focused Device Descriptions.


Readers should also refer to the Device Independence Glossary, [DIG], which is also relevant to this document.


A user agent that allows a user to perceive and interact with information on the Web

See "Browser" in [DIG]

Content Adaptation

A process of selection, generation or modification that produces content in response to a requested URI in a given delivery context. This context includes the capabilities of the device, as well as a set of attributes that characterizes the capabilities of the access mechanism, and the preferences of the user.

Content adaptation is used in order to ensure that the application will render and operate as optimally as possible on a range of difference device clients

Definition: a process of selection, generation or modification that produces one or more perceivable units in response to a requested uniform resource identifier in a given delivery context. See "Adaptation" in [DIG]


An apparatus through which a user can perceive and interact with the Web.

See "Device" in [DIG]

Device Description

A data structure that describes the characteristics and behaviors of a device. Conceptually, a Device Description provides both knowledge to be able to identify a device from its requests for content, and data about the devices attributes so that content adaptation can be effectively performed.

Mobile Device

A mobile device is taken to be a device that is portable, that can access the Web and that is intended for use while in motion. To be clear, this is a subset of the category of 'wireless devices' which also includes devices used while stationary, but without physical connections, such as Wifi-enabled laptops.

For most purposes, the 'mobile device' term is used to imply web-enabled cellular terminals or phones, and personal digital assistants.