With Palm Pilot VII in hand, station goes where you go
By Russell Shaw -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/4/2001 7:00:00 PM
The Palm VII is not the type of Palm Pilot that is limited to number-crunching and appointment logging. Internet connectivity in places where laptop hookups are not practical-for which the Palm VII is good-is the main selling point.
And to those of you who provide content for the Palm VII, this focus group of one says a hearty thank you.
Let's see: I recall an evening in San Jose last June. There I was, waiting for a commuter train. My beloved Portland Trail Blazers were playing the Los Angeles Lakers in an NBA playoff game. With antenna up, I went to ESPN's wireless site and got updated scores every minute or two.
A good thing, this wireless Web. So good, in fact, that the other day, I went on the Palm site (www.palm.net) and looked for new content providers with a wireless "Web clipping app" feed I could set up on my Palm VII. There were two local television station Web clippings listed: WRAL-TV Raleigh, N.C., and WPVI-TV Philadelphia.
I inserted my trusty Palm VII into a synch cradle, hooked it up to my PC and downloaded the WRAL wireless user interface into my Palm VII. Then, with my antenna facing skyward, I accessed the feed.
The WRAL-TV wireless presence was far more substantive, offering sections for news, sports, weather and traffic. On any day, there are about 20 screenloads of content on WRAL's antenna-accessed site.
As you may know, WRAL is a significant leader in the adaptation of advanced media technologies. It has been doing high-definition broadcasts since July 1996 and was one of the first local television stations with a significant Web presence.
The Palm initiative is at least 18 months old, and the Capitol Broadcasting outlet is also sending content to Web-enabled cell phones.
I called John Conway, who has been involved in WRAL's online efforts since the beginning. Still based at WRAL , Conway is currently director of weather at Internet Broadcasting Systems Inc., of which WRAL is an affiliate.
"Initially, we did wireless access because our computer programmers said they would easily be able to port existing content published to the Web site and port it to wireless," Conway said.
When a new page is posted on the parent Web site, a new text-only file of that page's contents is put into a template suitable for the Palm interface and is then sent to wireless Internet company AvantGo Inc. for wireless distribution.
The secret to this portability is XML (Extensible Markup Language), a Web publishing language that makes it easier to transport Web content between devices and platforms.
The Web-to-wireless transfer process can be automated, which makes the task that much easier. "Once it is done and set up, it runs and keeps running," said Conway, reminding me of countless Energizer Bunny commercials.
Palm VII users see a main screen with four links, representing the four main sections of the site. To reach their preferred section, they simply tap their stylus on the section title.
Next, a page with headlines appears in the window of their Palm VII device. Each headline is underlined. Tapping the stylus on the underline brings up the story.
Non-wireless Palm V users can also access WRAL's Web clippings by hooking their device up to a computer-attached synch cradle and then accessing downloadable software from the AvantGo Web site.
The cell-phone product looks slightly different, with headlines only and no story text.
For WRAL , there's no muss, no fuss, which is why the CBS affiliate is able to justify maintaining the service, despite less-than-awesome traffic and the lack of a revenue model.
On a typical day, fewer than 100 screens are downloaded to wireless cell phones. In contrast, in a recent week, a total of 6,769 screens of content were downloaded to PDAs; an unspecified number of those, though, were through Avant-Go access, which requires that all 20 or so pages be downloaded before any one of them can be read.
"More and more people will access the Internet on some sort of mobile device," Conway asserted. "It behooves broadcasters serious about being on the Web to explore wireless access," to which I respond, "Have antenna; will travel."
Russell Shaw's column about Internet and interactive issues appears regularly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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