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Preparing Content for Device Independence

Presentation for the Boston-IA Meeting on January 12, 2005, by Neil Perlin, principal of Hyper/Word Services of Tewksbury, Massachusetts.


Photo of Neil Perlin

Since the dawn of the Internet, we've read online information and help text primarily on desktop and laptop PCs. But in the last few years, "non-traditional devices" like handheld computers and web-enabled cell phones have permeated the market and now offer other ways to read online material.

Most companies will continue to use desktops and laptops to present material online. But companies with users in the field— insurance adjusters, civil engineers, sales people, field service technicians, and the like— may find it useful to be able to provide material in forms or on devices best suited to the users' location. Adaptive technologies for people with disabilities also require material that is independent of the way it is presented.

For example, if I'm in the office, give me the material on my laptop. If I'm at a client's, give me the same material but on a handheld device and modified to fit the handheld device's characteristics. If I'm walking along the beach, give me the same material but on a web-phone and modified to fit the phone's characteristics. If I need adaptive technology due to a physical impairment, give me the information in a way that my technology is prepared to interpret. And so on.

As useful as this may sound, the problem is that it's impossible to create and maintain the multiple outputs needed to support every device that users might have. (There are at least three handheld formats alone, and countless adaptive technologies.) So we need to create the material once, in a form that can automatically adjust to the device on which it's being displayed— what we call "device independence".

There's also a side benefit to device independence: If the material is being modified automatically to fit the requirements of the device, it should also be able to be modified to fit the requirements of the user.

Today, this market, and the supporting tools and technologies, are in their infancy. But the markets, tools, and technologies for device-independence are starting to appear. In our January 2005 presentation, Neil Perlin discussed the state of the market, and some possible open standard technologies for creating device independent and accessible content— XHTML and metadata— and their effect on development practices.

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