I am not a gadget man. Pagers, cell phones, PDAs... even wrist watches
barely get my attention. A few days ago I was shown the latest MP3 gadgets
by our President, Rich Tehrani and our CTO, Tom Keating. Rich's was a
Sony. Tom's was a Nomad player. Both devices are true marvels of
technology. They're so small, yet so powerful, with megabytes of memory to
store a large number of tracks and unbelievable sound quality. I wish I
could have shown more enthusiasm, but I just took a listen and said,
As a kid, I always looked forward to birthdays and holidays when my
family dazzled me with calculators, tape recorders, radios, robots, and
the like. But I think I finally figured out what killed my excitement with
gadgets. It was the PC, more specifically the ability to program the PC.
As a programmer and a developer, I take special interest in things I can
program and customize. Most gadgets are just not programmable enough for
me and hence my lack of interest.
Recently, Marc Robins (VP of publications) proudly showed me his Sprint
PCS phone and the list of sites he could navigate with its built-in
mini-browser. He talked about acronyms such as WAP (Wireless Application
Protocol) and WML (Wireless Markup Language), which enabled these
capabilities, and expressed his wish that our Web
site could also be browsed "sans wires." Being a straight
HTTP and HTML person, I had no idea how to go about that task. I asked him
just to browse to our home page to see what would happen. When the screen
displayed an error message, I was more disappointed than surprised. Why
couldn't the mini-browser just show a stripped-down version of our site?
Ok, I realize how precious wireless bandwidth is (at least for now), but
the service could have just cut the page to a desired length and at least
After a little more digging, I came across the concepts of WAP
gateways, WML, WSP (Wireless Session Protocol), and WTP (Wireless
Transaction Protocol) but decided to abandon further research until I had
more time. That was a about a month ago. A couple of days ago something
sparked my interest and I dove into WAP once again. This time I was
determined to solve the problem once and for all. I wasn't so much
interested in the gadget (that is, the handset) as I was interested in
developing the page that the handset's mini-browser could pull up.
And about an hour later, I had it. A simple WML page (known as a deck
in the wireless world) that printed the obligatory starter phrase,
"Hello World!" Success!
WML didn't turn out to be such a big deal after all. In fact WML is a
as WMLScript, which is a program that runs locally on the mini-browser.
One of the nasty issues with WML is its close adherence to XML that makes
the language very finicky. Miss an end tag, and the mini-browser will
complain to no end about the error. Such was the case when I tried to
insert a break tag (<br>) in my document. Without the end tag, the
mini-browser kept complaining until I caught the error and fixed it by
changing the tag to <br/>. Web browsers are, of course, a more
forgiving lot. The entire process of downloading a WML page to a handset's
mini-browser could be explained in three steps:
- The mini-browser contacts the WAP Gateway using WSP/WTP;
- The WAP gateway contacts the site using HTTP; and
- The WML page (deck) is encoded and returned to the mini-browser.
With all of its promise, I have a simple gripe with WAP. Why have a new
language standard (WML) when HTML could have been used all along? And
don't even get me started on Palm's Web Clippings! Although, I shouldn't
complain too much -- I guess that's job security for us Web guys.
I'm elated to have our site available on a mini-browser. My brain is
simply brimming over with ideas! I can use COM to tie together all of our
systems (yes, we are a Microsoft shop with some Linux machines scattered
about) and generate dynamic decks through which I can monitor and control
just about everything using my cell phone! Wait a minute; I don't have a
To check out our page on your mini-browser go to: tmcnet.com/wap.
Let me know how it works out for you. Drop me a line to email@example.com
Robert Vahid Hashemian provides us with a healthy dose of reality
each month in his Reality Check column. Robert currently holds the
position of Director for TMCnet.com -- your online resource for CTI,
Internet telephony, and call center solutions.
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