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What is WAP/WML Hosting?
The small screens and limited resources available on mobile devices require a special approach to content creation and delivery. Consequently, mobile web content can be created in Wireless Markup Language (WML), to be delivered to phones and tablets via the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP). These two components simplify application requirements and streamline performance.
The Rise of the Mobile Web
When the World Wide Web was first becoming popular in the 1990s, the way to access it was by using your desktop computer.
But computers have continued to get smaller and smaller. Consumers buy more smartphones than computers nowadays, and mobile Internet traffic is quickly eclipsing PC traffic any way you measure it.
The rise of the mobile Web has created a need for content that’s friendly to smartphones and tablets. These devices don’t always have the raw processing power to handle the torrential rush of information pouring into them from the Internet, and their small screens mean that some content, sized for the increasingly huge flat-screen monitors of today, is either too large to display or rendered cartoonishly small when sized for a mobile screen.
Many of us are familiar with the frustration of using a mobile device to try to access a website that was designed only with large screens in mind. It’s not surprising that websites that aren’t mobile-friendly often have lower search engines rankings, less traffic, higher bounce rates, and lower conversions than mobile-friendly websites.
Methods for Creating Mobile-Friendly Websites
Web designers and developers have come up with a few different ways to tackle the problem of creating a mobile-friendly experience for their users.
Some choose to simply create a smartphone app, and not worry about optimizing their website for mobile users. While an app can allow you to have more control over user experience, there’s no guarantee your visitors will go to the trouble of downloading an app, especially if they’ve been frustrated by trying to access your website on mobile. Making your website mobile-friendly is a better option for users who are unable or unwilling to download or run your app.
There are two main options for creating a mobile-friendly website: either creating one responsive design that automatically changes depending on the screen size of the user, or creating a separate mobile-friendly design.
While creating maintaining one responsive website may seem like the easier option, trying to make the same design work on very different devices can negatively affect user experience, and cause technical difficulties with some browsers.
Creating a separate mobile website enables you to optimize your website for mobile users and the technology they are using. A website build for mobile devices will load much faster than a resource-intensive one meant for PCs.
Creating Mobile Websites With WML and WAP
Creating a separate mobile website? Enter WML, the Wireless Markup Language. A streamlined version of the popular Extensible Markup Language (XML), WML is used to code content that’s specifically designed to display or run on mobile devices. If you’ve ever been to a website on your phone and received a "mobile-friendly" version of the site or page you’re visiting, chances are it was written using WML.
WML has been in use since the late 1990s to display content on mobile phones, and is designed to create content that falls anywhere between two lines of text and the maximum resolution of your smartphone or tablet.
Of course, while WML might be the vehicle that delivers the content in your mobile browsing experience, it still needs a highway on which it can travel to do so. That’s where the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) comes in. Much like the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) used by traditional browsers, WAP is a secured file specification that allows users to access content on mobile devices. Like WML, it’s optimized for smartphones and tablets, and it currently supports all of the major wireless carriers’ networks, including CDMA and GSM. It runs in all operating systems, but some operating systems are created specifically for it, including Microsoft’s Windows CE and JavaOS.
WML/WAP Versus HTML
With the capabilities of modern smartphones continually increasing, the use of HTML and XHTML are gaining in popularity for some mobile websites.
On the other hand, WML is optimized for devices with limited keyboard functionality and processing capability, and although those limits are expanding, most mobile users continue to prefer a clean, streamlined interface and content set when accessing the Internet from their mobile device.
Which is not to say "streamlined" means "stripped down." Many websites coded in WML duplicate the functionality of their big-screen counterparts (including search functions, profile access and more) in a simpler, touch-friendly way. WML supports many of the same common elements used in HTML including hyperlinks, forms, images, navigation, and more.
Finding a Host That Supports WML and WAP
If you generate content specifically for mobile customers, or want to ensure users can access your site regardless of device, you’ll need to make sure your hosting plan supports these technologies.
Most hosts should be able to support WAP and WML content natively, and since both language and protocol are free, there should be no additional cost to you. Always check with your hosting provider, however, to ensure the server you select is configured to process WML and WAP content properly.
WAP/WML Hosting Frequently Asked Questions
Is limited keyboard functionality still an issue?
While smartphones continue to grow in popularity, many cell phone users, particularly in the exploding prepaid market, continue to purchase smaller, less-expensive phones. Most of these are not smartphones and do not include a traditional QWERTY keyboard. Of course, as Android and Windows produce more and more low-cost, prepaid smartphones, these users may eventually make the transition to phones with full (albeit small) keyboards, in which case there may no longer be a need.
With 4G and LTE internet just about everywhere, do we still need to program for slow connection speeds?
Just like there continue to be a small percentage of individuals still using dial-up to get their desktops online, you can expect that, at least for many years to come, many cell phone users will still be stuck with slow connection speeds.
What is the difference between WML and HTML?
WML has significant limitations over HTML because it was designed for very small screens with limited processing power and slow speeds. Limiting its capabilities made sure web pages did not become too complex or data-intensive for mobile phones.
Do I need to learn WAP and WML if I’m using a content management system?
Most modern content management systems, such as WordPress, include plenty of template options that feature automatic rendering for smaller, mobile devices. Of course, these probably still won’t look great on older, smaller, WAP phones. If you truly want your website to be WAP friendly, it may be necessary to program a separate page. You organization will have to weigh the effort versus necessity, particularly as more and more mobile users make the leap to smartphones.
Do tablets still need WAP/WML?
Most modern tablets are more than capable of handling anything your desktop computer can. Older tablets, however, may still rely on WAP technologies.
If I use WAP/WML, does that mean my mobile pages will start with M instead of WWW?
Not necessarily. If you plan to program you pages to support either desktop or mobile devices, your current page (probably beginning with WWW) will simply adjust to a mobile-friendly version when used on devices smaller than a pre-specified resolution. However, if you opt for completely separate pages for mobile devices so you can take full advantage of mobile technology, it makes sense to do so on a subsite, typically using the prefix M (for mobile).
Is WAP/WML required for Android or iOS devices?
In general, modern smartphones aren’t going to require a WAP site, as their processors and wireless networks are more than capable of handling a traditional website, and they are designed for dealing with data-rich content such as images and movies.
Is WAP still being developed?
With the introduction of 3G networks, the need for WAP protocol was significantly reduced, as 3G (and now 4G and LTE) allow cell phones to transfer data as well, and at times better, than many desktop computers. However, many people still rely on the older, 2G lines, particularly those in rural communities or using low-cost pre-paid cell phone plans.
Are WAP/WML sites capable of dynamic scripting, the way HTML sites are?
Yes. Just like your traditional HTML website can be programmed for dynamic content by embedding PHP code, so too can you WAP/WML site.
Do I need to install anything extra on my server to host WAP content?
WAP/WML files can be hosted from a standard HTTP server. In order for the WAP information to travel from your server to wireless phones, it needs to travel through a WAP gateway, which is typically owned by a wireless service provider. You may need to change some configurations on your server to support various WAP MIME types, but this may already be configured.
If I’m hosting an image-intensive site, will it still work in WAP/WML?
It should still work; however, it probably won’t be very useful to your WAP users. WAP phones traditionally have smaller screen sizes, typically 320x240 or smaller, so those users will have a hard time viewing your images. Also keep in mind, WAP phones tend to be non-smart phones, and probably won’t work over WiFi, so those users will be stuck viewing your site on cell plans that probably don’t support 4G.
Is WML still used?
Not much these days. With the introduction of WAP 2.0, WAP servers and phones were able to render XHTML script, which made WML all-but-obsolete. At the same time, mobile screens have become significantly larger, and their processors now rival those on many desktop and laptops. Modern smartphones no longer necessitate the more-limited WML language, and most now support the full-featured HTML.
If smartphones and tablets can handle all the same content as desktops, do I still need to create mobile-friendly pages?
Absolutely, and more than ever before. Yes, most smartphones and tablets can handle all the same content as your desktop, but that doesn’t mean it’s as easy to view on them. While you probably don’t need WAP or WML these days, you still need to consider structuring your site to be small-screen friendly. Thankfully, most modern content management systems can do that for you automatically.