Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group News

To WML or not — 14 November 2005

What is WAP 1.x? What is WML? WAP is a set of specifications that enabled mobile devices to get on Internet (using an Internet connection that must be built in the device) and lets you browse pages written with a markup called WML. WML was built following the XML specifications. I am not going too describe in depth all the features of WAP 1, that is not of much interest to the MWI and specifically to the "Best Practices" working group.

WML, instead, can be of interest for the working group. WML is the markup that was used on most sites developed all around the world (except for Japan) until i-mode and xHTML-MP (WAP 2) arrived.

This group is about mobile services and bringing the power and the contents of the web on mobile devices. For this reason WML is of interest to the group. To be able to make a "Best practices" paper you first need to understand what is the technology and know what is already in place. This is useful to understand what is good and what could be better. If you don't do this, you're basically starting something from scratch and this is not wise and you will probably repeat some mistakes that someone else already did. Looking at other people's work is always of help. It is much easier to look at someone else's work and identify possible problems or things that could have been done better. This is valid for anything, not just WAP, Internet or computers.

The group has taken into consideration WML, xHTML, iHTML (the markup used on i-mode sites) and the web itself. Looking at all these technologies the work has started. The group's charter is limited to one year (with the possibility or starting a new charter once it's over), focusing on a limited field was necessary to be able to produce something useful and not too vague. In the future it is possible that the group will extend its work to other fields.

Now I wonder, should WML be part of the scope of the group? Should it be part of that "limited field" where the group will work? What about iHTML? And xHTML-MP? None of these standards was designed by the W3C, but they were all born from an existing recommendation (respectively HTML and xHTML Basic). This means that none of these is entirely compliant to W3C's recommendations. Is this a valid point to put them all out of scope? Of course not. Not only because the W3C should not limit itself at its own technologies, but also because, as I wrote above, you need to look at the existing technologies before working on a "Best Practices" document.

So, does this mean that WML, iHTML and xHTML-MP should be part of the scope?


Each markup should be taken into consideration for itself. What is xHTML-MP? xHTML-MP is an extension of xHTML Basic, it adds a few tags that are useful to mobile devices such as input masks and wCSS (CSS with limited features) and more. What is the technical difference between a web page (that you browse with your desktop browser) and a page written using xHTM-MP? Not much, you basically get a few extra tags that will help you using a _particular_ browser. Why particular? Because it's installed on a mobile device that might offer have some physical limitations. While browsing with a desktop computer we are used to a pointing device and a full keyboard, on a mobile device we will have, at most, a stylus. xHTML-MP adds those extensions to make mobile browsing more comfortable. To me, this is a very good example of how the mobile web could be. We have a technology that is already deployed, based on a standard that is already widely available on the Web (for desktop computers) and that also adds some extra features for mobile devices. Not to mention that the W3C and OMA are working together to make sure that the next versions of xHTML will also include ad-hoc tags for mobile devices. This means that in the future what is today tailored for mobile devices will also be part of a W3C recommendation. Anyway, if you open an xHTML-MP page in your Firefox browser you will still be able to see it, at worse you will not be able to take advantage of the input masks, for example, but would you mind? I don't think so.

What is iHTML? It's the plain old HTML without frames and a few other tags there were considered not needed for mobile devices. Tables are not a requirement, but many devices sold in the last 2-3 years support them well. HTML is still VERY broadly used on the web as not all sites have moved to xHTML, yet. This means that in theory, an i-mode device could display decently a page that was designed for a desktop computer. This is just GREAT! If we don't consider the limited display, we could already have the mobile web on these devices, just like with xHTML-MP devices with sites that have moved to xHTML. New i-mode devices will also support iXHTML which is DoCoMo's personalization of xHTML Basic. More or less the same as the OMA did for xHTML-MP. These two technologies are already converging.

Both of them, in some way, are already able to show a web page designed for a desktop computer on a small device. This could already be referenced as "mobile web", the web as we know it on a mobile device.

Now, how many times have you read an article about WAP and the first sentence was "WAP is not the Web"? I did quite a few times. If it's not "THE web", can it be the "mobile web"? I don't think so. I am _NOT_ saying that WML is bad and we should throw it away, what I am saying is that WML was designed with small devices (read cellular phones) in mind. PDA's were not in scope; new cellular phones with a 208x176 display were not in scope; portable devices with Internet connection like a PSP where NOT in scope. So why should the WML be added as "in scope" in the Mobile web best practices? WML is NOT about web. WML is about "services tailored for cellular phones". This means that within its scope WML does it's job, but not necessarily that it's a good markup for the mobile web. How can you think of developing a web page that is compatible with Firefox and my Nokia 6230 at the same time? I MAY NOT, unless you use a transcoding software, but this is another story. A transcoding software might even produce something that is good for an IVR that reads the content of a web page and I can pick links dialing a number on my wired-line phone. Is this in scope for the "Mobile Web Initiative"? No, it's not.

In my opinion, the group should take into consideration WML to learn from it. The group is not going to design and recommend a new markup, so nothing says that a best practice that is good for xHTML is not good for WML. Of course if the group will sometimes suggest to use CSS for some specific task, WML will not be able to fit that, but maybe the general reason or layout produced with the CSS can be replicated with some other WML tag. The "best practice" of not putting an 800x600 image on a small device still applies to sites developed with WML so it's still a GOOD practice to follow. Trying to write a document about mobile web taking into consideration WML, xHTML, i-mode is not going to work. It is simply too wide and the three markups were originally designed with different starting points that led to different conclusions. Since this is "mobile web" the group should probably focus on technologies that are available on the web today (and tomorrow) and study and learn from technologies that are already deployed on mobile devices (not limited to cellular phones, but also PDA's, tablets, etc).

Andrea Trasatti Permalink

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Contacts: Daniel Appelquist, Jo Rabin, Chairs
Dominique Hazaël-Massieux and François Daoust, W3C Team Contacts