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Handy Rules

Wireless: New standards could ease access to the wireless Web.

ry accessing the wireless Web with your cell phone, pager or handheld computer and you’ll quickly realize the technology does not live up to its promise (see “Mobile Web vs. Reality,” TR June 2001). Most Internet sites are designed for PCs, not the tiny display, limited keyboard, and software specifications of a handheld. This is why you have to scroll side-to-side to see a Web page and why you frequently get error messages telling you to update your browser. However, new Web standards that could be implemented within the next two years will give your device the ability to request any Web page and have it automatically tailored to meet the device’s needs. Leading the way is the Cambridge, MA-based World Wide Web Consortium, a group that represents more than 500 industry organizations and is charged with determining technical guidelines for Web use (see “The Web’s Unelected Government,” TR November/December 1998).

The current standards for mobile devices allow Web-enabled handhelds to receive information over the Internet. But the standards don’t guarantee that a Web site will be formatted to suit a particular device’s capabilities. In addition, pages often contain bits of code easily read by PCs but indecipherable by mobile devices.

The consortium hopes to solve these problems with new standards that would allow a Web site to obtain technical details about the handhelds requesting its content and respond with appropriately formatted pages. Each request would contain a “pointer” that would tell the site to fetch a profile of the device’s capabilities from a remote server. In turn, the Web site would send its page back to the device with a “note” describing how the page should look. That way, elaborately designed sites would automatically be pared down for your cell phone’s tiny screen.

According to Ken Dulaney, vice president for mobile computing at Gartner, a technology consulting firm, “The future of [mobile devices] is heavily dependent on this key piece of technology.”

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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