Internet users can now surf the Net with the latest mobile phones and handheld devices, but Web developers warn that most Internet sites will need to be redesigned to be compatible with the new products.
Developing Web sites and content for mobile devices is not an easy task because such content must be specially formatted for small PDA and phone screens. In addition, developers face the challenge of stripping unneeded text, and employing minimal (if any) graphics, and no sound or video.
`I believe wireless [formatting] imposes a higher level of discipline on Web designers than ever before,' says Troy Tyler, CEO of US-based developer SmartRay, which specialises in Web development for mobile devices.
Although many venues have tried to offer content designed for that audience, few have been successful.
`There are new wireless Internet portals popping up every day - many with 'smart' names but without smart business plans,' GartnerGroup analyst Bob Egan observed.
According to Tom Worthington, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and Web design contractor, nine in 10 commercial sites and eight in 10 government sites in Australia will need a total overhaul with the advent of Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) technology.
`It's what the phones don't have that designers need to take into account,' Worthington said. `They don't have graphics, colour, plug-ins, Java or Java Script. It's a slow connection and you can't assume the screen is a particular size or shape.'
Sydney-based Web designer Michael Cannon-Brookes said the solution is to provide an alternative text-based site geared to phones and handheld devices.
`Not many existing sites would look any good on WAP,' Cannon-Brookes said. `It would be an alternative Web site with a different address. You would have the address bookmarked on your phone or pushed to you on a regular basis. It's not really conducive to surfing. It's more for information delivery - stock prices, news etc.'
Worthington agreed creating a separate site was one possibility, but he argued that if existing sites complied with Web usability guidelines they would also comply with WAP.
While redeveloping the existing sites or building separate sites in order to solve the emerging issue of how to reach audiences that refuse to stay `put & wired' would create great demand for Web-development services, Cannon-Brookes says it could have its downside.
`There are guidelines for Web usability from the World Wide Web Consortium, and disability access from the Human Rights and Equal Oppor-tunity Commission,' Worthington said. `They all basically say the same thing, which is that you should have a text alternative for little pictures and not rely on colours. In fact, government Web sites could be taken to court for discrimination against the disabled if they don't comply with this.'