As the border between Web and wireless melts away, pure-play HTML--the lingua franca of the Web since 1990--has worn out its welcome. In today's business model, offering instant, anywhere access to a customer database is a key to a successful field force. But the tedious task of rewriting HTML code from scratch to adjust for each metamorphosis of the PDA, handheld PC and cell phone can drive even the most patient IT staff thoroughly bonkers.
The emergence of extensible Markup Language (XML) and its Web equivalent, XHTML, has eased the pain of developers and CEOs alike. Released in early 2000, XHTML merges key elements of Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and the fixed Web to allow companies to create a single, dynamic interface that can be adapted quickly to multiple types of fixed and mobile browsers. And because it is structured around XML, it allows users to integrate content from multiple platforms and retrieve legacy data with ease.
According to Tim Berners-Lee, director of W3C (http://www.w3.org/), a consortium that sets Web standards, "XHTML...provides the bridge to page and site authors for entering the structured data, XML world, while still being able to maintain operability with user agents that support HTML 4."
The giants of the wireless world see promise in the platform. Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson and Siemens, along with a number of mobile operators and software developers, this week announced plans to standardize on XHTML as the backbone of future developments in mobile services. And Nokia just released a demo version of its first XHTML-based browser for cell phones, which it hopes to incorporate into all its mobile phones and license to other mobile phone manufacturers.
While there is no such thing as limitless potential for a product, many executives see a bright future in XHTML-based mobile interfaces. "With XHTML, we now have a unique opportunity to start creating and implementing visually appealing, yet backward WAP-compatible services that will satisfy the requirements of the future as well as ensure a smooth evolution path for current services," says Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia's executive vice president.
Companies ranging from graphics to Web service and software providers like Accenture, Adobe, CNN and Sun are also excited about this new standard. "In order for the wireless industry to realize the true benefits of content, the entire power of the Web needs to be unleashed," says Richard Siber, partner, communications and high tech, Accenture. "Ultimately, [XHTML] begins to eliminate the challenges that the burgeoning mobile data industry has experienced to date."