Prepare to get WAPped
September 10, 2001
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I’m not sorry I never bothered to learn Wireless Markup Language (WML, the markup used for WAP 1.0 phones). The market for Web content on mobile phones isn’t there quite yet, despite the promises that they are the next big thing, and despite the extraordinary wads of cash that telecommunications companies dropped on third-generation spectrum in Europe. But this year, WAP 2.0 phones will be coming on the market, from Nokia and others. As Nokia’s documentation shows [377kb PDF file], WAP 2.0 uses XHTML Basic. That’s right, the cut-down, modular version of the markup language you already know and love.
So if you are one of the diligent Web designers who has been paying attention to the W3 and the standards they recommend, you’re ready. However, if you’re one of those FONT-tag loving, nested-table-building, single-pixel-GIF hacking tag-soup generators, prepare for a bunch of work before your content can be viewed using WAP phones.
And get this – WAP 2.0 phones will have support for
margins and padding and all the other joys of the box model, but not the
FONT tag. And all this without the need for a different protocol,
since unlike the original version, WAP 2.0 uses HTTP 1.1. Who’s
laughing now? Not the dim bulbs who insisted on making their sites
look identical in, say, Netscape 3.0 and Opera 5.0.
What’s in WAP 2.0 / XHTML Basic
body, head, html, title
abbr, acronym, address, blockquote, br, cite, code, dfn, div, em, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, kbd, p, pre, q, samp, span, strong, var
dl, dt, dd, ol, ul, li
Basic Forms Module
form, input, label, select, option, textarea
Basic Tables Module
caption, table, td, th, tr
So what’s in XHTML Basic? The more important thing is what is not in XHTML
and a bunch of other presentational tags, as
well as some HTML 4.0 table elements like
tfoot. Some of the
attributes that you might be accustomed to, such as height and width
attributes for table cells, have also been dropped for this version. Given
that these attributes were mainly used by designers to enforce fixed-pixel
layouts intended for big PC-type screens, this is just
as well. Most of the devices hooked to WAP 2.0 are going to have smaller
screens than those fixed-pixel designs require. Now you know why I don’t
like “ice” layouts. Neither will your new potential customers with
Web-enabled phones, PDAs, whatever.
People are already starting to spec out their sites in XHTML Strict or Basic, including sites we’ve linked to previously, like Kirk Franklin’s morecrayons.com. There are plenty of sites that could easily go to XHTML Basic with a minimum of work. If you can do Strict, then in most cases I’ll bet you can do Basic without changing any markup. MacEdition probably could, although it would mean a new round of CSS testing to make sure that bad-boy browsers like Netscape 4.x can cope with CSS styling for tables; I already know that a fully table-free version of MacEdition looks like crud on Netscape 4, so I’m not ready to try it. Still, the further the Netscape 4.x share of our traffic falls, and the further that of AvantGo rises (now around 2% of MacEdition’s pageviews), the less I have this excuse.
I’m not quite ready to go XHTML Basic, but new sites can, and sites with big budgets definitely should.
There are a few pieces of the puzzle missing before we can be confident
that our sites look appropriate and attractive on both standard computers
and handheld devices simultaneously. Firstly, we need to be confident
that we can use the
media="handheld" attribute for our linked
stylesheets, to serve up content in a format that is appropriate to the
device being used. That means we need to know that handhelds know to use
the stylesheet for handhelds, and that the myriad of junk browsers for the
desktop world know to ignore it. Secondly, we need tools to convert
existing pages to XHTML Basic – an extended version of
HTML Tidy would be
ideal. Thirdly, we need enhanced editing packages that know about these
DOCTYPES, and can insert the correct declarations and XHTML syntax.
And finally, we need to remember that not everyone uses IE5 or 6 on Windows, and that appropriate formatting and graceful degradation are worthy aims.