I work in the mobile and wireless industry and have deployed various applications, including voice Internet applications for checking bus-arrival times, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) applications for newspaper delivery, and PDA applications for beverage-delivery and health-care applications. In this and future regular editions of Mobile & Wireless UPDATE, I'll explore these different application types, their features, and reasons for developing various types of applications.

Three primary types of mobile and wireless applications are available: 1) Microbrowser applications (e.g., WAP), 2) voice Internet applications (e.g., Voice XML), and 3) PDA embedded applications (e.g., Pocket PC, Palm devices, Research in Motion—RIM—devices).

Microbrowser applications are an often-overlooked platform for delivering mobile applications. You've probably heard much about WAP, including negative comments that WAP's popularity is waning. The truth is that microbrowser applications are perfect in many situations. For example, my project team deployed several newspaper-delivery applications that more than 400 delivery drivers with WAP-enabled cell phones use, and those applications are extremely successful because we designed them specifically for the WAP platform. Delivery drivers can easily access the delivery schedule, use a numeric PIN to log on, change quantities, and mark deliveries as complete. The 400 phones that the delivery drivers use were free with purchase of the monthly carrier service plans; the phones are fairly rugged and offer reliable wireless Internet access in most major metropolitan areas.

Voice Internet is also an important method of delivering mobile applications. Voice Internet applications rely on Voice XML, which is the primary markup language in voice Internet applications. Voice Internet applications aren't strictly mobile applications; call centers use them, and they're accessible from any phone. You might have seen recent Sprint PCS advertisements promoting the use of voice email on mobile phones; those phones access voice Internet capabilities through a regular phone number. For an example of a voice Internet application, dial 800-555-TELL (8355). Voice Internet applications that you access on a mobile phone can provide voice access to any type of data source. Unlike other mobile applications, voice Internet applications let people safely use hands-free phones while driving.

You need to design voice Internet applications to meet specific purposes. For example, my project team developed and deployed a voice Internet application for checking bus schedules. After dialing the access number, the user verbally enters the route number, direction of travel, and bus-stop location, and the system retrieves the next three arrival times. The system ties into the bus-tracking Global Positioning System (GPS), so arrival times are accurate based on bus location.

You can also use embedded PDA applications for delivering mobile applications. When system requirements include peripherals (e.g., scanners, printers), extensive data input, or functionality in the absence of wireless coverage, an embedded PDA application is the most suitable solution. However, PDA applications often cost much more than microbrowser or voice Internet solutions. An embedded PDA application involves local data-storage mechanisms, local code execution on the device, and the use of various methods to synchronize with back-end systems.

In the next regular edition of Mobile & Wireless UPDATE on March 14, I'll look more closely at the various application types and their advantages and disadvantages.

Until next time,
Steve Milroy, steve@milroy.com