Smart phones will outnumber PC browsers next year

Smart phones will outnumber PC browsers next year

By Susan M. Menke

GCN Staff

By the end of 2001, the hundreds of millions of microbrowsers now being built into wireless phones and handheld computers will outnumber standard PC browsers on the Internet.

Microsoft Corp.'s wireless business development manager, David Marutiak, made the prediction in July at the e-Gov conference in Washington.

'Content providers will begin to recognize the mobile audience as their main audience,' he said.

To meet the mobile demand, Marutiak said, Web sites will have to begin maintaining multiple copies of their content for what he called 'heavy, medium and light' browsers. A better alternative, he said, is to tag the content with the Extensible Markup Language to keep it separate from the different display formats, which reside in XML style sheets and document type definitions.

The Microsoft Internet Explorer browser can deal with Hypertext Markup Language and XML data, he said, whereas Pocket Explorer and Mobile Explorer also accept Wireless Markup Language data.

Special server needed

Mobile devices that use the Wireless Application Protocol require a special gateway server to translate the content's Common Gateway Interface scripts for microbrowser display on small screens.

Two San Diego companies, Microsoft subsidiary Wireless Knowledge Inc. and Qualcomm Inc., have announced server software called Workstyle Server 3.0, which can format specific Web content for access by wireless or wireline devices. Workstyle Server runs under Microsoft Windows NT and Windows 2000.

WML, Marutiak said, supports tag-based browsing in ASCII format. Although it can make hyperlinks and show images, it is limited to about four lines of display on current devices. Wireless developers refer to the small displays as hypercards and sets of them as decks of cards.

The transfer rate is about 9.6 Kbps, or 14.4 Kbps on the fastest wireless networks.

Although the World Wide Web Consortium and the Wireless Access Protocol Forum have agreed to converge their display methods through XML, 'it's not a done deal yet,' Marutiak said.

Meanwhile, on the horizon are the much faster 3G, or third-generation, wireless networks and so-called 2.5G intermediates that follow other protocols. These networks will boost the current transfer rates tenfold or more, Marutiak predicted. In addition, the oncoming Bluetooth personal area networks will connect devices dynamically and automatically by short-range radio signals.

'Smart phones are becoming Net ports,' Marutiak said. 'Every phone will be like a personal digital assistant.' Better LCDs and batteries will permit larger, color displays and lengthen operating time, he said.

In the future, users will wear 'ear bugs' and carry the phone-computer devices in their pockets, he said.

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