Size Matters: Optimizing Mobile Document Delivery

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Third Parties Welcome
That said, the lines between remote viewing device and laptop replacement become less distinct when you take into account the prevalence of third-party software that expands the capabilities of both types of devices. "What you're seeing from our third parties is that they're exploring the boundaries of what people want to do," says Heit. "They're reacting more to segmented needs, whereas we're trying to please the whole market." So while RIM may not offer full editing of documents out of the box, a BlackBerry user can find software that expands those editing capabilities while also including "everything from printing solutions to faxing solutions to document management," says Heit.

A palmOS PDA ships with more software functionality than a BlackBerry, but palmOne holds to the same credo when it comes to not overdoing the out-of-the-box features. "You can always add functionality to software," says Maes. "The reality is that there are more than 22,000 PalmOS applications already out there." 

This is where reality starts to set in for smartphones. Because of their tremendously small screens, the primary way of reading textual content is via SMS. The problem then lies in the fact that SMS messages can be only 150 to 200 characters long, limiting their usefulness as a mobile document viewing solution tremendously. SMS has gained traction, though, through document management solutions like Esker Software's DeliveryWare, which have leveraged SMS to enable mobile notification systems. "We are in the business of business documents. Three quarters of our requirements for mobile delivery are some form of virtual tapping on the shoulder. There's an entire notification scheme that can be event-based and sent via SMS as a text message," says Mitch Baxter, EVP of business development for Esker "Typically they're not sending documents, they're sending notifications. When they get back to their desk there'll be a document that'll tell them more."

While mobile document delivery remains challenged by the very portable form factor that makes the devices so appealing, the mobile industry and content providers will need to continue to focus on finding ways to optimize devices and content to meet the needs of today's growing mobile workforce.

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Sidebar: Creating Mobile-Friendly Content
When creating content intended for mobile viewing, there are a few simple rules to abide by. "What we try to do is use basic fonts and small graphics, and then we try to use it on our own wireless device first," says Esker's Baxter. "This is pretty obvious stuff, but it's something that most people skip."

Adobe's Huq recommends always keeping in mind the resolution of the screen that the content will be viewed on. "When you're creating content for a QVGA type of screen, it's better to design the content in such a way that you don't repurpose 8.5x11-inch documents." 

To ease the process of managing and delivering different versions of documents, intelligent document delivery solutions like Esker's DeliveryWare can be of great assistance. "We have the ability to render just about anything into just about anything. We have mostly been taking things out of a print stream of some sort of application," says Baxter. "A classic use of this is that we can take an invoice as a printed invoice, but also take an XML document of that data in that invoice and push it into our system. In that case, the email is using one formatting path and the XML is using another. All wireless is to us is another formatting path.

"What you'd typically do is have one format for very basic devices with an SMS-only interface. Then you could have another format for one of these more advanced network PDAs," says Baxter. To facilitate the transmission of the correct format to the right user, DeliveryWare leverages a vendor master record, which "is, in essence, the master view of a trading partner with whom you're doing business," Baxter continues. "When you write the business rules for your content, DeliveryWare has the ability to go into this table and look up and find out that this particular customer has this set of wireless destinations."

Truth be told, just because you have a document to deliver to devices with multiple form factors doesn't necessarily mean that you have to worry about formatting that document for each delivery channel. In fact, handheld OS developers like RIM and palmOne and software developers like Adobe are working hard to make delivering documents to handhelds as simple as possible. "We try and adapt to what you're presenting rather than forcing you to create content specifically for this handheld," RIM's Heit says. For Adobe, "our goal is to extend the content base we already have into a new channel," says Huq, meaning PDFs would be able to move seamlessly between various devices. 

PDFs are a document type that may require a little more planning when creating for mobile delivery, though, as they often contain large images. "We're right now in the process of developing a document that's specifically targeted at mobile content providers," says Huq. "There are some simplification mechanisms that we'll explain, but also there are certain tools that are currently available inside Acrobat that can be used to simplify documents so they're less taxing on handhelds' bandwidth and processors." At press time, a definitive release date for this document had yet to be announced, but when released it will be available from Adobe's Web site.   

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