Mobile TestNet

Progressive Devolution, The Sequel

Look, Ma! No Tables!
This is a pure CSS web site. It scales proportionately for handheld devices. No need for two web sites for the sam content. One web site. One stylesheet drives BOTH models – full-size and pda-sized! That's right! To simulate the scalability of this site, grab the corner of your browser window and resize your browser as small as you can. See? Or...view directly on your pda. You don't need an an extra link. Promise.

Now then...during our last episode, we were attempting to adapt and scale a streaming media slideshow to be viewed in a mobile media player. Unfortunately, unlike the full-featured desktop models, the mobile versions of RealPlayer and Windows Media Player do nothing more than play individual video and audio clips. So forget about captions, layout controls, transitions and other cool stuff you can do in the desktop versions. No SMIL or SVG support. Nothing. Just clunky players hog half the real estate on your tiny screen!

"OK, Fine," I said. "So, I'll just go find another SMIL/SVG Player, and mess around with XHTML+SVG+SMIL+CSS code myself. Uh-huh. Wishful thinking, I found out.

Back to the Future
My hunt for a versatile mobile player turned up empty. I found players that supported SVG but not SMIL, or vice-versa. Players that supported both but were outdated and wouldn't install. I found multi-format players or viewers that were suitable only if the content was created in their respective proprietary, pricey editing software.

If Nobody Can See It, Does It Really Exist?
The scarcity of mobile multimedia content is not due to lack of interest in creating it. The problem is viewing it after it's created! Until there are a variety of cost-free cross-platform plug-ins and players capable of supporting several of the most popular content formats, mobile content is going nowhere for the moment, I'm afraid.

Macromedia Flash for Mobile Devices is a notable exception to this viewer dilemma. The Flash Player is familiar and it's free. It's widely distributed across mobile platforms and brands. Moreover, Macromedia's enthusiastic, rich developer support and community is beyond compare. The technology is stable, versatile and reliable with proven value that is here to stay. Want instant value for your effort? Develop in Flash MX. Learn from my mistake. Skip the others for now.

It's Anything-Can-Happen Day.
It's not that the plug-ins aren't out there. Just forget the freewheeling giveaways of the early web! Anything free in the mobile software environment seems to come with too strings attached or at considerable expense. I was unable to find value that justified the expense. Nor reassurance the product would be a major player in the marketplace.

The Serve-Yourself Alternative.
The good folks at Mozilla, SoundForge and other sponsored development groups have cost-free media viewers and players in development as you read this. Pre-release products are available as free downloads with no strings attached. If you know your java, using these products will be a snap. But for most of us, we'll have to be content to wait eagerly for a mobile Gecko-based browser. I'll bet it will be every bit as good as Firefox and will become the defacto mobile browser standard. Or I can wish anyway!

The Comfort of the Familiar.
The last place to look for advanced media support was the latest versions of the popular mobile browsers themselves. Pocket IE, NetFront 3 and Opera Mobile all have varying degrees of SVG, SMIL, XHTML and CSS2 support. All were lacking in support for all four languages Netfront includes both an SVG Viewer and a SMIL Player plug in with V3.0, just not for my PocketPC version! Opera has no support for either the Palm or WinCE pda platforms, and Pocket IE 2003, with the most advanced multi-format support is only available for mobile devices running the WinCE O/S, excluding all Palm-driven pdas, and almost all mobile phones.

Finally, I concluded that I'd have to be satisfied developing content for WinCE-based devices, using my HP iPAQ for testing. At least for now...

Small-scale Serendipity.
Microsoft does not reveal the advanced media formats it supports in the list of features for developers. Completely by accident, buried in an obscure corner of the Microsoft Mobile web site, I was pleasantly surprised to find SVG support for Pocket IE, 2003. This support does not appear to include animation, but it's a start!

I want my PocketTV!
Time has run out for this project, but I understand the PocketTV player is a versatile, cross-platform video player product. MPEG is the required media format. More here. I imagine there are apps that enable video simulation for creation of slideshows, captioned video clips, etc. I don't know much about it. Memory intense, however, from what I could gather, but nothing a storage card wouldn't remedy.

Dancin' the Two-Step-Backwards
So, FULL STEAM AHEAD, right? Wrong. An unexpected dilemma stopped the entire project dead in its tracks. Worse yet, finding a lasting solution for this ongoing problem burned nearly the entire project timeline, resulting in an abbreviation of the project overall.

Zero Configuration Equals Zero Connection...Read on...

Finding the Information You Came For
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