XHTML: A Universal and Mobile Markup Language

In March, I attended the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) WIRELESS conference, which showcases the latest innovations in wireless technology. I heard several amazing statistics at the conference, including the fact that 2 years ago in Finland, wireless surpassed wired Internet connections. Also, a wireless NTT Docomo protocol in Japan now has 20 million users. These statistics indicate that Europe and Japan are well ahead of the United States and the rest of the world in wireless communication. Why? Because of the lack of network standardization and a multitude of mobile operators, allocating the wireless spectrum has been a difficult process in the United States. Michael Powell, the new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman, said the commission is ready to move forward quickly to deal with the wireless spectrum problem and to attempt to standardize equipment and services.

I've heard a lot about Japan's NTT Docomo iMode phone and how successful it is. NTT Docomo phones have small screens like the Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) phones in the United States. However, unlike the WAP phones, which run Wireless Markup Language (WML), the iMode phones serve up Compact HTML (cHTML). The data stream is 9.6Kbps vs. 19.2Kbps, and both device types use a gateway translator.

iMode is more popular than WAP for several reasons.

  • iMode services are only $20/month.
  • iMode phones have a color screen that displays graphics.
  • iMode phones support Java, multimedia, games, and even porn (WAP phones use a text-based system that's 4 to 5 lines long and 22 characters wide).
  • The battery life is 200 hours!
  • The device costs only $300.

The Japanese have a fascination with small gadgets. They spend a lot of time commuting, and they like to spend that time playing games and using the rich multimedia capabilities of the iMode phones. Japan has set standards for the screen size of phones. In the United States, no standard graphic regulation exists, so developers code for the least common denominator. Another factor is that US users are accustomed to Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and pagers and find "triple-tapping" keys to spell out words tedious.

As a gadget technophile, I was excited to hear that the United States might get a form of NTT Docomo soon. At CTIA, AT&T and the NTT Docomo organization announced that they're developing a global standard that will support both WAP and iMODE. This standard might lead to one markup language—eXtensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML)—for all mobile devices and PCs.

At CTIA, Microsoft's Steve Balmer touted XML as the universal message format that can provide scalable content for all mobile and wireless devices. With XML, you must mark up everything correctly to get "well-formed" documents. Many of the non-PC devices don't have the resources or power to interpret "bad" markup language, such as some of the existing HTML documents. XHTML, which is HTML defined as an XML application, gives you greater operability among all types of communication devices.

The attributes of XHTML include

  • It's a stricter and cleaner version of HTML.
  • XHTML tags are all lowercase.
  • Pages you write in XHTML work well in most browsers.
  • The elements (tags) and attributes are almost identical to HTML.
  • You must properly nest XHTML elements.
  • XHTML documents must be well-formed.
  • You must close all XHTML elements.

The following is an example of an XHTML document:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN"
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<title>Your Document's Title Here</title>
<body bgcolor="#FFFFFF" background="graphics/bgrounds/bg19.gif"
text="#000080" link="#800000" vlink="#008080">
<h1 style="text-align: center">Page Title</h1>
<p><img src="graphics/lines/bar11.gif" width="628" height="3"
alt="**********" /></p>
<br />
<p style="text-align: left">Hello to Gail's World</p>
<p style="text-align: left"><img src="graphics/lines/bar11.gif"
width="628" height="3" alt="**********" /></p>
<p style="text-align: left">
</a>Copyright 2001, Gail Fitzmaurice<br />
<a href="mailto:[email protected]">Gail Fitzmaurice</a>: Your
Name<br />
Revised: 03/28/01/<br />

Industry analysts predict that by 2002, 75 percent of Internet browsing will occur on devices other than the standard desktop PC, including mobile devices, phones, and even TVs. XHTML is designed with a general user-agent interoperability in mind. Web developers will no longer have to "sniff" or detect which browser type is accessing a Web server to display the appropriate set of pages. If you write a document in XHTML, you need to write only one document, and it will display on all different kinds of devices.

The WAP Forum and the NTT Docomo organization support the convergence toward XHTML, making its success quite viable. By combining the strengths of HTML and XML, we can have a richer, more consistent graphical experience on the plethora of devices that are emerging, as well as a universal markup language to support the experience!

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