Although Mobile Scalable Vector Graphics is just a few years old, several promising applications have already emerged. Developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standard for describing vector graphics in Extensible Markup Language was recently ratified as a "shall support"-a mandatory feature for future wireless devices supporting multimedia message service (MMS) messages. Now, with its de facto standardization, Mobile SVG is poised to make 2.5G and third-generation MMS messaging content a reality.
Among the most innovative emerging applications are entertainment, and location-based and field services. Entertainment content includes interactive cartoons, greeting cards and animation. But location-based and field services are particularly well-suited to Mobile SVG because of the technology's ability to allow users to zoom in to high magnification levels without loss of image quality.
Location-based services include maps with animated objects and hyperlinks that provide consistently sharp views of different areas of maps or layers of topography. Field services include technical drawings that, thanks to Mobile SVG, can provide consistent high-quality images, whether viewed in full or in detail.
So what exactly is Mobile SVG? Begin with what it is not. There are myriad file formats-including JPEG, GIF and PNG-for depicting graphic images that are fundamentally bit map image formats. Bit map formats feature only a color description for each of the pixels, picture elements that are the dots that make up an image. In contrast, Mobile SVG is a vector graphic format that contains geometric descriptions of all the shapes in an image with all of their attributes, including color, size and outline thickness. And although there are other vector-based formats such as Macromedia Flash, AutoCAD and PostScript, only Mobile SVG is open and vendor-neutral, XML-based and specifically designed for wireless transmission and display.
Mobile SVG is designed to ensure that MMS messages that contain interactive graphics are interoperable among carriers, handsets and content providers without the need for lossy conversions between incompatible graphics formats. As an XML-based standard, Mobile SVG can be read by humans, is easy to write and preserves image quality at different resolutions or zoom factors.
The full SVG standard was originally designed for viewing on desktops. Then the W3C introduced two mobile versions: SVG Basic for higher-end handsets and PDAs, and SVG Tiny for smart phones and lower-end PDAs. Together, they Make up Mobile SVG.
Mobile SVG's advantages over bit maps for encoding and displaying content such as animation, maps and interactive graphics are distinctive. Where bit maps are static, vector graphics are dynamic and scalable, so they can represent very advanced graphical features. That includes, besides animation, layered graphics, semitransparent objects, graphics embedded within graphics, complex shapes and font effects.
Mobile SVG's scalability allows image resizing to fit any screen or printer size or resolution with no loss of quality. This is an advantage in the wireless world, where mobile devices come in countless shapes and sizes. Users can also zoom in on images with no loss of quality, useful when viewing large graphics on small handset screens. Particularly important for bandwidth-sensitive mobile applications, file sizes for Mobile SVG are typically smaller than bit maps, reducing download times over wireless networks.
Mobile SVG can store a large amount of information about objects in a graphic. Text within SVG graphics can even be searched using basic search engines.
There are some applications for which Mobile SVG is not suitable, however. For photographic images, for example, JPEG is best, since it was designed specifically for that task. As a result, the Third Generation Project Partnership has included both bit map and SVG Tiny and Basic formats in its MMS standards, and Mobile SVG can support embedded JPEG and PNG images.
Bandwidth is perhaps the standard's most compelling benefit for carriers. The format, unlike streaming audio and video, works well in 2.5G and even 2G networks. Interactive Mobile SVG animation can be transmitted in fewer than a dozen kilobytes.
The success of next-generation wireless systems begins and ends with the user. If wireless customers see a compelling reason to replace their existing phones, they will. MMS messaging, enriched by user-centered technology like mobile SVG, makes compelling arguments for phone upgrades. The industry's challenge in implementing Mobile SVG is to make these arguments indisputable.
Jeff Wender is Omap marketing manager for Texas Instruments Inc. (Dallas). Donna Ronayne is vice president of business development at BitFlash Corp. (Ottawa).