When it comes to devices, Microsoft and Palm Computing rarely
agree on anything. But this week the two companies separately announced
support for a messaging standard for wireless devices.
Both Microsoft and Palm Computing will support the Wireless Application
Protocol (WAP), a specification for sending and reading Internet content and
messages on small wireless devices. Microsoft will incorporate the protocol
through its Wireless
Knowledge venture, while Palm will license Phone.com's WAP-compatible
browser and re-distribute it to licensees of its Palm software.
The WAP Forum, an industry group comprised of Phone.com, Nokia, Ericsson,
and Motorola, is working on a wireless application standard for service
providers, software developers, and content providers. Products supporting
the standard are expected to hit the market by the end of 2000.
The addition of industry heavyweights Microsoft and Palm Computing instantly
enhances the group's credibility, its work to expand the wireless
market, and interoperability among mobile phones, according to
That is not to say that there are not still some major kinks to be worked
out, especially on Palm Computing's side. Palm is not adopting the forum's
specification for its own devices, it insists. Instead, it will support a
browser for wireless products developed by its licensees.
The maker of the popular PalmPilot handheld has developed its own
proprietary technology for wireless Internet messaging, dubbed Web
Clipping. The technology, which is currently only used in the Palm VII
wireless device, reformats Internet data by optimizing graphics-heavy
content for text-based devices. Web clipping essentially delivers
information directly to Palm VII users via the Palm.net service.
Web clipping has been criticized because it's not an industry standard
technology. In other words, content providers must reformat their Web sites
if they wish to be carried on Palm.net.
While Palm will continue to promote Web Clipping, it is licensing the
WAP-compliant Phone.com browser for licensees using the Palm
platform in wireless phone handsets. The company has said it plans
aggressive licensing in the wireless handset market, and Palm's support of
another technology in WAP may create an additional headache for developers and content providers.
"The context that provides meaning to this is Palm's overall strategy to
license our technology to a wide variety of market segments, including the
wireless handset space," said David Weilmuenster, director of platform
strategy and planning for Palm. "Our goal is to broaden acceptance of the
Palm platform. This is a way for Palm to participate in a much larger
market than we're able to do with just our own projects."
Although Palm's membership is targeted to bolster its relationships with
wireless phone licensees, Weilmuenster did not rule out using the WAP
specification in future Palm-branded devices. "It's wise not to ever say
'never,'" he said. "But at this moment, we're doing very well with Web
Weilmuenster did not flinch at the news that Microsoft's joint venture with
Qualcomm, dubbed Wireless Knowledge, is also joining the standards group.
"Like any standard-setting body, you're almost always sitting across the
table from someone who is a competitor," he said. "It's no more a problem
for us than it is for anyone else. There's always a delicate balance
between what you share and what you keep for your own."
Wireless Knowledge, which provides wireless data through its Revolv
service, said it will support all wireless standards agreed upon by the
group. Revolv is marketed directly to wireless carriers and will be
available next summer.
"The WAP Forum consists of industry leaders from an array of technology
sectors, including our parent companies Microsoft and Qualcomm, that share
an incredibly important goal that will help advance the global expansion of
wireless data," said Dave Whalen, vice president of sales and marketing for
Wireless Knowledge, in a prepared statement yesterday.