Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Telstra Ending I-Mode Web Mobile Service in Australia

According to news reports, Telstra will cease its iMode service on 10 December 2007. The service started in November 2004 and provides web like information on mobile phones. The service is popular in Japan but has not taken off elsewhere. The UK O2 mobile carrier is also reported to be phasing out iMode.

I tried iMode when it came out and it worked okay. The iMode phones were slightly modified GSM phones and also capable of displaying ordinary web pages. However, it appears few in Australia were willing to pay a subscription for news or information on the iMode phones, when they could get the same information free on the web. No one knows why iMode is popular in Japan; one theory is that because it can be used in crowded trains on long commutes.

iMode uses a derivative of HTML called Compact HTML (cHTML). It was designed for hand held devices with small screens. This differed from the Wireless Application Protocol Version 1 (WAP 1) developed by other phone makers, which is an XML format not compatible with HTML. WAP 1 also failed to attract much support from consumers.

Current mobile phones have WAP 2 which includes a subset of XHTML and thus have more compatibility with the web. Smart phones, such as Apple's iPhone have more advanced web browsers supporting HTML, XHTML and some new features of the proposed HTML 5.

However, web content on mobile phones has still not become a popular consumer product. It is not clear if large screen phones, such as the iPhone, with more advanced software will change that. Features of CSS allow web pages to be automatically adjusted, to some extent, for hand held screens. However, compromises need to be made to the web design to suit both desktop and hand held screens.

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