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The Broad Spectrum of Mobile Device Capabilities

October 20th, 2009 by tamuwebmaster

As Erick mentioned, we are diligently working on a solution that is friendly to the entire spectrum of mobile devices. The difficulty in developing web sites and applications targeted at mobile devices is that each device has its own preferences: which markup it can render and which technologies it supports. These capabilities vary from support for JavaScript to support for bold text. JavaScript is obviously on the cutting edge for mobile browsers, whereas bold text is something developers and designers take for granted.

To help mitigate the differences, we spent time researching how others were dealing with this problem. We eventually found ourselves on the homepage of the Wireless Abstraction Library (WALL) for PHP. After some enjoyable integration work (that’s developer-speak for “difficult hacking”), we have a functional integration between the WALL4PHP library and the Zend Framework-powered back end of Texas A&M’s mobile site.

I’ll save the intricate details of how the libraries work together for another day, but I wanted to talk about how this benefits you. You are most likely intimately familiar with what your mobile device does well, and where it can improve on your experience with websites. However, because each device is designed for a particular subset of one of the popular markup languages for mobile devices—WML (WAP 1.0), cHTML, or XHTML MP (WAP 2.0)—most websites are not capable of rendering in your device’s native markup language, if you will. This is why you have a (possibly) growing list of web sites you refuse to visit from your mobile device.

It would not be prohibitively difficult to develop views for each of the three markup languages, except each device is permitted to support part of the full markup language specification, or the entire language. Giving markup to the device that it does not understand would land us right back where we started: a web site that is not properly rendered on your device.

Using markup elements defined by the WALL specification, it becomes a simple exercise to translate into the appropriate markup for a given device based on its capabilities. The WALL parsing library uses what is known as the Wireless Universal Resource File (WURFL)—a large XML database that contains information about device capabilities—to determine the proper markup for a device based on the device’s user agent. The end result is that a device that supports PNG image files will receive PNGs; a device that supports bold tags as <b> elements will receive them and <strong> elements for XHTML MP supporting devices; so on and so forth.

As webmasters, we hope that this technology will be able to help us provide a most enjoyable and useful mobile browsing experience to you. We really appreciate your feedback on what a mobile application can do for you. Keep the information coming.

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 Mobile Web
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2 Comments to The Broad Spectrum of Mobile Device Capabilities

  1. I was looking for a solution to implement wall4php with zend framework and I reached here.
    As you wrote “I’ll save the intricate details of how the libraries work together for another day”
    This made me sad.Still thinking how to do this.

  2. Bhupedra on July 11th, 2010
  3. Howdy Bhupedra, We actually abandoned using WALL4PHP on our mobile front-end because it proved to be unnecessary given the composition of our intended audience.

    Unfortunately that means that our approach is not fully tested and I would not want to steer you down the wrong path. We wish you the best in your endeavors.

  4. jcarouth on July 12th, 2010

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