The certainty that XHTML basic will emerge as the standard language for next-generation wireless devices lies in the fact that it is backed by two organizations with tremendous clout: the WAP Forum, owner of the Wireless Application Protocol specification, and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.s wireless division, DoCoMo, in Tokyo, which has more than 23 million subscribers to its popular i-mode service.
Furthering the potential of XHTML Basic, a subset of Extensible HTML, is the standards backing by corporations such as Ericsson SpA, Openwave Systems Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd.s Panasonic division, Toshiba Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp.
Why are all these large wireless players behind XHTML? Because, experts say, it incorporates many features of existing wireless content standards with the added benefit of allowing developers to write applications once and have them run on many wireless and nonwireless devices.
"XHTML Basic is, in some ways, a return to simplicity," said Masayasu Ishikawa, HTML activity lead for the World Wide Web Consortium, at the Tenth International World Wide Web Conference, in Hong Kong. "We have studied the usage of WML [Wireless Markup Language], Compact HTML, i-mode HTML, MathML [Mathematical Markup Language] and so on and tried to create a reasonable subset that would enable use on multiple devices and gain support from industry leaders."
The WAP Forum has announced it will follow the recommendation of the W3C and use XHTML as the core markup language for Version 2.0 of WAP, which is expected to be released by midyear. It has, however, not committed to XHTML Basic. While unlikely, experts say this could lead to the development of a competing standard.
Using XHTML as the application layer in WAP 2.0 will allow developers for WAP devices to combine the formatting features of HTML with the interoperability capabilities of XML (Extensible Markup Language).
NTT DoCoMo is also moving in the same direction. DoCoMo is working on an XML-based language to replace cHTML, which i-mode currently uses. Doing so will enable the carrier to provide rich content beyond the simple stock quotes, short text messages and cartoon characters currently delivered to its mobile devices, said Keiichi Enoki, managing director of NTT DoCoMos Gateway Business Department.
Despite widespread support behind XHTML Basic, work on the standard at the W3C is hardly over. As future devices and browsers are developed around XHTML Basics capabilities, the W3C HTML Working Group and the W3C Mobile Access Interest Group will work to find common ground for future markup languages aimed at content for small information appliances, said Ishikawa of the W3C, in Fujisawa, Japan.
"XHTML will open the field by giving developers the muscle of Internet content and the rigid structure that mobile devices demand," he said. "The possibilities are endless."