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In: Software Development

It can not be denied that almost everything nowdays is mobile. Whereas before laptops were not common, today these gadgets are abundant and actually cost lower than they used to cost before. Cellular phones were not the trend in the past, but nowdays almost everyone has a cellphone.

Recognizing these, cellular companies and website programmers have launched what is now called the Wireless Application Protocol. Abbreviated as WAP, it is the international standard for Internet access using a mobile phone or from a personal digital assistant. The mobile application for WAP is very similar to a web browser in computers (Mozilla Firefox, Opera, atc.) But with some features removed to agree with mobile phone standards.

With WAP, mobile users can access services provided by various websites from their cellphones. They can send email, browse through the latest news reports in major news websites, track news about their favorite sport events and even download music files to their phones. This is very useful for businessmen, who are always on the go and may sometimes find carrying a laptop around as tiresome.

Since its similarity to the Hypertext Markup Language used to design websites, WAP sites are created using the Wireless Markup Language. Similar to HTML, WML provides web interface features such as navigation, data input forms, hyperlinks, text and images.

How Mobile Internet Works

Mobile Internet access works much like its computer-based cousins. It uses a bridge or gateway to access the World Wide Web. When the user requests a page, the bridge retrieves the pages from the Web. These pages are then converted into a format that the phone can read and recognize.

One wonderful feature of mobile Internet is that you can query for phone numbers of certain establishments through the Web. You can then use the numbers that are returned by the query to make a call through your cellular phone, saving you from the hassle of having to dial the number to make a call.

The Process of Designing and Building a Mobile Website

There is little difference on how to design and build a mobile website as compared to designing conventional websites which are accessed from a desktop or laptop browser. But it is important to know these differences before one decides to tackle the task of creating websites specific for WAP browsers.

For one, designing a mobile website takes a far longer time to complete as compared to its desktop cousins. This is because the WAP access terminals in each phone model variates from each other. There is a different terminal for Nokia devices, and different ones for Sony Ericsson, so on and so forth. WML itself has very strict specifications because it is a very different beast compared to its ancestor, HTML, despite their similarities in the appearance and behavior of sites that are built using their codes. Thus, one finds that there are different methods of how to design and build a mobile website that caters to each of these specific phone models.

To design a mobile website, you need specific authoring kits for mobile phones. In the beginning, when mobile phones did not support the XHTML standard, content providers needed specific development kits to come up with WAP-specific pages. This is in great contrast to designing desktop-accessed pages, where one only needs a text editor and a browser to design and test a page.

Fortunately, WAP authoring kits are available and are abundant in the Internet. To search for these kits, one only needs to type "mobile website authoring kits" in their preferred search engine and will be rewarded by a lot of hits, or search results. These results are links to the various WAP development kits that can downloaded from the World Wide Web.

There is also documentation available in the Internet providing information on how to design and build a mobile website. For example, mTLD hosts a myriad of training resources including ebooks on how to make your websites compliant while mobile phone internet standards.

Initially, unlike conventional websites, WAP sites need to be tested using a cellular phone itself. This has made designing and building mobile websites take a far longer time to be completed as compared to computer-based web sites. Nowadays, however, more and more mobile phones are adapting to the XHTML and XML standards. Plus, there are also mobile phone emulators (software that imitate the environment of a mobile phone) that can be downloaded from the Internet. The mobile web designers can use these emulators to speed up the testing phase of their projects. Because of these improvements, the ways of how to design and build mobile web sites are much easier and faster.

To facilitate faster development of WAP sites, the World Wide Web consortium or the W3C has developed a scheme in which developers can assess if their web sites are ready to be accessed by mobile phones. The registry of mobile ready sites, mTLD has even released a tool, named "MobiReady Report" to test for the mobile readiness of website using established practices and standards of the industry. These tools can be used as a reference as to how to design and build mobile web sites faster.

There are basic principles and limitations one should be aware of in designing a mobile website. Summarized, these limits are:

o Only Cascading Style Sheets can be used to design the layout of your mobile website. In contrast to conventional websites, one can not use tables to lay out the design of the pages.

o XHTML (Extended HTML) and XML (Extensible Markup Language) can be used to hard-code the pages' design.

o Only characters encoded using the UTF-8 standard can be readable and accepted by mobile phones' browsers.

o There are specific page sizes for each specific phone. The pages have a resolution of 640×480 at most, and 120 pixels on the average.

o Unlike designing pages that are accessed by a computer, in which you have the freedom of placing whatever information where you may want to put them, you have to place the most important information of your WAP site at the top of the page.

o WAP users favor the use of radio buttons and list to take their picks, rather than entering information through text entry fields such as text areas and textfields.

o Only the JPEG and GIF image formats are accepted in a WAP-oriented site.

o Mobile phones can only accept a maximum page size of 20 kilobytes. Any larger than that and it will cause phones to crash when accessing the pages.

o Pure HTML is used a mobile page. You can not provide links to videos, as well as the Portable Document Format or PDF. You can not embed Flash and other similar file types as well because mobile phones are not yet configured to be able to play such files from WAP sites.

o Most mobile devices access WAP sites with the speed of a dial-up connection. As a designer, you must be careful to design your pages in a way that it will be too big and take too long for the WAP user to access. Users pay for the time that they access the Internet through their phones, so it is important for your pages to load quickly.

o Mobile devices do not have the luxury of navigational icons unlike web browsers. Mobile phone users are limited to using the directional buttons and scrollers on their phones to navigate through a page. Designers are also encouraged to put in an interface to navigate to the previous page because most mobile phones do not have a "back" button in their WAP interfaces.

Mobile websites are hosted using the top-domain name of.mobi. The domain is approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and is managed by the mTLD global registry for domain names. Like mentioned earlier, websites hosted on the.mobi domain follows a specific standard in order to make sure that they are friendly to mobile phone processors. This standard, released by the W3C, specifies how to design and build mobile websites and optimizing them for users to achieve positive experience in navigating them.

To summarize previous information, these are the key points of how to design and build mobile websites:

o You need a content editor in order to design the user interface of your mobile website. These editors are available from the World Wide Web. Some of them are free, some are commercial.

o There are limits that should be remembered when designing websites for the mobile phones, including the screen size (which is dependent on the phone model you are developing for) and the maximum file size that a WAP-ready mobile phone can handle.

o The content you come up with can be tested using an emulator that is also available in abundance in the Internet. These emulators imitate the environment of a cellular phone so you no longer have to upload your beta content to a host, and then access them using a WAP-ready mobile.

o Mobile web sites are uploaded and hosted using the ".mobi" top-domain name.