Why I Hate Palmtops (was: Re: SGML, XML and SML)

rev-bob at gotc.com rev-bob at gotc.com
Sat Nov 27 12:37:44 GMT 1999

> ** Original Sender: Paul Prescod <paul at prescod.net>
> > >Cell phones must increasingly deal with structured information.
> > >Therefore cell phones need to deal with XML.
> > 
> > Agreed, but that doesn't answer the question of "Why XML?".  
> Well that wasn't so much the question that was asked...rev-bob is
> obsessed with people who want to read books and entire websites on their
> palmtops. I don't see that as the primary target market for XML on
> plamtops and cell phones.

So what *do* you see as that primary target market?

I'm not so much obsessed with those folks as I am tenacious regarding my original, very 
basic question.  I just don't grok the reason for a screen on a cellphone; granted, it's a 
neat gadget, but so far it strikes me as an almost-totally *useless* gadget.  I hear a lot of 
hype (especially in the last couple of weeks) about the Wireless Web and how we're all 
going to be surfing through cellphones and palmtops, and it just doesn't "click" for me.  I 
don't *want* to surf on a postage stamp.  Nobody I know wants to do so, either.  
(Okay, one friend of mine surfed a little on a PalmPilot - but he's a bit eccentric 
anyway.)  Why don't we want to do this?  Because we like being able to see a good-
sized chunk of data on a screen.  "Good-sized" is mushy, I know - I'm running my 
monitor at 1024x768 because I like seeing even MORE data, but my friends are 
perfectly happy with 640x480...such is life.

Hence, I'm asking what I thought would be a really simple question - "What am I not 
getting?"  What sort of people *do* want to access the Web through a tiny cellphone 
screen?  So far, I've gotten a lot of theoretical counterpoints, but nothing that really 
addresses the point.  I hate to burst a bubble, but (a) vCards are quite different from full-
blown web pages, and (b) simply stripping banner ads and such from pages won't do 
much to the content size of those pages.  (Well, maybe if you're surfing porn pages or 
hack pages, but not the average page.)  Even my smallest web pages are about 3K or 4K 
- which is about double what I can stand to read on a palm-sized screen.  Therefore, I 
ask - wherefore the wireless web?  Why XML-in-a-cellphone?  It just Doesn't Make 
Sense to me, and all the responses I've gotten are so caught up with "better resolution" 
and "Why are you assuming that a web page has to be a document of substantial size?" 
that they Don't Get It.  (And as for that assumption - because every web page I've ever 
seen IS a document of "substantial size" for this concern; 4K may not sound like much, 
but try reading it on a palmtop or a cellphone.  Point made?)  My objection is not to 
Current Rendering Thresholds - it's to the very concept of trying to read even minimally 
complex thoughts on a screen the size of two postage stamps.  From my viewpoint, a 
web page isn't worth my reading time if it's not either confirming that something has 
been sent (a confirmation page) or at least minimally complex in terms of communicated 
information...in other words, if you don't have something to say, I don't want to hear it.  
Yes, there is some important data which can be communicated in just a few bytes - 
stock quotes and vCards come to mind, and I've already conceded that point.  However, 
general XML support seems more suited to a Whole Ball Of Wax application, and I 
remain unconvinced that palmtops and cellphones qualify.

I have suggested some possible avenues that might get around this visual real estate 
problem - for instance, bypassing the screen idea entirely and using text-to-speech 
rendering, or going outside the current palmtop form factor to something which would 
allow for a larger screen via the clamshell metaphor.  However, the existence of these 
possibilities does not justify XML parsers in current-metaphor devices.  Should a 
cellphone have an XML parser?  As cellphones are currently being built, I see no reason 
for it.  Should a palmtop web browser have an XML parser?  I don't even see who's 
using the palm-browsers currently available; who are these people?

I'm more than willing to admit that I might be missing some key segment of the 
population and utterly not grokking their desires.  Fine; show them to me and I'll know 
they exist.  If I know they exist, I can adjust my content development efforts to take 
them into consideration.  Otherwise, I see no reason to spend time doing that - and since 
I'm primarily a content developer, that's my main concern.  I'm not obsessed with people 
reading Moby Dick on their PalmPilots - I'm obsessed with providing the people who 
visit my site the best content they can see.  If somebody's really using palmtops to see 
the Web, I want them to be able to see what I've got to say - even if only a couple of 
them ever stop by.  If it's all just hype for an unused feature, though, I have better ways 
to spend my time.  Converting my 4DOS batch files into WSH scripts comes to mind....

Oh, to swipe a bone from the SML threads, here's another thing to toss in.  I have a hard 
time visualizing radical internationalization on a tiny screen.  Anglo-centric characters, I 
get.  Asian scripts and Cyrillic...well, those seem a bit out of range.  Again, am I missing 
something?  Call me strange, but I just don't see the pixel density on current palm/cell 
screens being big enough to display a reasonable amount of Kanji data.  Maybe this is an 
argument in favor of a limited-i18n dialect (or subset) of XML for such devices, and 
maybe not - too early to tell right now.

 Rev. Robert L. Hood  | http://rev-bob.gotc.com/
  Get Off The Cross!  | http://www.gotc.com/

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