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Daniel F. Zucker: Ubiquitous Web Browsing (part 1)

(Abstract and
contact
) This talk was Daniel F. Zucker’s key note at
Cool
Chips
in Japan. Daniel is the Director
of Technology at ACCESS Co.
Ltd.
which is headquartered in Chiba, Japan and specializes on web
browsers in mobile devices. By doing this they were greatly benefitting from the
recent surge in wireless technology. They also
have a facility in Fremont.

(Abstract and
contact
) This talk was Daniel F. Zucker’s key note at
Cool
Chips
in Japan. Daniel is the Director
of Technology at ACCESS Co.
Ltd.
which is headquartered in Chiba, Japan and specializes on web
browsers in mobile devices. By doing this they were greatly benefitting from the
recent surge in wireless technology. They also
have a facility in Fremont.

Their
netfront browser is
mostly used in i-mode devices. i-mode is a brand and service mark owned by
NTT-DoCoMo that refers to an integrated service of multi-media content and
communications. Today, visual content of i-mode uses CHTML (compact
HTML
) which is a subset of HTML 2.0, 3.2, and 4.0 specifications
(example), as opposed to
WAP/WML which is based on XML (example). Because cHTML is a
subset of HTML it does not require translation of HTML content. For example, the
Treo 600 is a device that uses cHTML instead of WML. WAP/WML is a classic
example of hardware capabilities outrunning standards efforts. When WAP was
first conceived, rendering even a subset of HTML was considered too expensive
resourcewise. Today, this not true anymore: instead the translation of HTML to
WAP is expensive and does not scale. With voice control playing an increasingly
important role, XHTML +
Voice
(also referred to as “X+V”) is probably the next standard that
is going to be adopted widely.

Daniel
next showed us a demo of HP’s iPaq where he pulled up an airline reservation
page and entered via voice departure and destination airports and various
preferences. The audio promting and the fact that he had to tap an icon before
and after every voice command seemed tedious. But voice recognition did
immediately fill the recognized text into the appropriate fields providing nice
visual feedback. Cool was that one did not have to tap every field but that one
could say a whole list of things like “departure: San Francisco” and it would
fill in the specified fields. I can see that with robust enough voice
recognition, this could become my preferred way to interact with the Web —
phone or no phone.

Mobile
computing:

Smart phones seem to be the
sweet spot for mobile computing where PDA computing power combines usefully with
high bandwidth cell phone communication capabilities. Additional features are
going to be GPS and cameras. Today 2.3% of all cell phone customers are using
smart phones but in Zelos projects 50% at 2008. The main enabler of this
PDA/cell phone integration is going to be voice recognition.

Killer app:

Beside voice commands, Google is turning
out to be surprisingly useful: one can pull up facts from the web anywhere
anytime making conversations much more informed. In the enterprise context the
availability of productivity tools everywhere all the time is expected to have
beneficial impact. And then there is entertainment which is going to be a huge
component of the success of smart
phones.

Web browser is the key
technology:

Of course, standards are a
very important consideration for people building web browsers. As mentioned
CHTML is presently replacing WAP and will in turn be replaced by another HTML
compatible standard that incorporates voice, with XHTML + Voice being the most
promising. Daniel thinks that for animated multimedia content Macromedia’s Flash
is too heavyweight for small, memory- and energy-starved devices, so that
instead SMIL (Synchronized
Multimedia Integration Language
— maybe together with SVG, Scalable Vector
Graphics
?) will emerge as the dominating standard. The other
important advantage of SMIL is that SMIL presentations can be created on the
phone because they do not require big development environments like Flash does.
This will enable smart phone users to create their own multimedia show without
the need of a PC. Daniel then showed us a demo illustrating the video
capabilities of the most modern cell phones today (so far only available in
Japan, of course). At this particular demo, video was presented at the upper
part of the screen and the lower part offered a set of links that changed over
time as the video was progressing. All this was scripted using SMIL.

Operating
Systems:

Smart phones are not like
traditional cell phones with firmware and proprietary operating systems. There
are about five major operating systems competing for market dominance: Symbian appears to be the current
leader. The privately held company is owned by Psion (25.3%), Motorola (19%),
Nokia (19%), Sony Ericsson (19%), Panasonic (7.9%), and Samsung (5%) (source).
Nevertheless, Daniel predicts that Symbian will eventually loose out against
other operating systems that either are more open (e.g. Linux) or are required
to support widely available, important smart phone components (e.g. Qualcomm
products requiring the operating system BREW). Microsoft still tries to catch up
and they have huge amounts of money so they will eventually have a very
competitive solution. Linux
is very promising since it is customizable, not controlled, and owns a very
large brain share among programmers. Drawbacks for Linux is its memory
management that is not optimal for small memory systems, missing infrastructure
for realtime requirements, and its relatively long boot time.

(to be continued)

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