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Multimodality: Simple Technologies Drive a New Breed of Complex Application Input : Page 2

Much like traditional mobile applications, multimodal applications—which allow user input through a variety of methods, including voice and motion—have already put down deep roots in the global marketplace. Wise developers will stay on top of this trend as well as the development of the XML-based languages that facilitate multimodal input.




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More Bells and Whistles: Who Cares?
Back when basic wireless technology began to take off, analysts, journalists, and vendors alike predicted it would change the way everybody did business, and it hasn't really—except for those who were mobile in the first place (sales people, UPS drivers, etc.). Multimodality is interesting to be sure, but should we realistically expect it to have a broad-reaching impact on the typical enterprise developer? In other words, you'll soon be able to tell your iPod to play a certain song while driving in your car without taking your hands off the wheel. So what?

To get our arms around that question, we need to look a little closer at the way mobilized application development proliferated. Earlier this year at SpeechTEK, Intel's Peter Gavalakis outlined three reasons for the lack of wireless adoption in the enterprise: cost, lack of infrastructure, and lack of standardization.

In fact, it is the cost of standardization and the cost of infrastructure that prevented wireless penetration in the enterprise.

In order to understand why this is so, it's important to look at wireless adoption outside the United Sates. While wireless adoption in the enterprise in the United States has been slow, internationally, it has not. "Poorer countries have a higher wireless penetration," says Former W3C Multimodal Working Group member and EMMA author, Roberto Pieraccini. This is because poorer countries didn't have the money for traditional wired infrastructures in the first place.

In countries such as China (which is the second largest mobile market in the world), mobility and multimodality have been adopted rather quickly. Obviously, it is more cost effective for a country to develop global satellite systems in order to accommodate a wireless business culture than develop a wired infrastructure at this late date.

However, greater wireless penetration is not limited to the poorer countries. "Last year," says Pieraccini, "cell phones outnumbered landlines in Europe." What's the reason for this? "Europe adopted the GSM standard," says Pieraccini, whereas in the United States, phone manufacturers use different standards, making many phones un-interoperable. Thus, each company has an interest in seeing a standard adopted only if it's the standard they currently use.

Not to worry, theorizes Pieraccini, who invokes Wi-Fi as a potentially "disruptive technology," capable of eliminating these cost, standardization, and infrastructure issues altogether. If Wi-Fi allows you to use the Internet and VoIP, to talk to anyone you want anywhere for only cents a minute, why do you need your telephone or your cell phone?

The Future of Multimodality
If multimodality can render your phone and your cell phone obsolete, the barriers to total wireless penetration disappear. Will such an event prompt the mobilization phenomenon to finally impact the enterprise with crushing urgency?

"We don't know, we're still in the early adoption phase," says Pieraccini, speaking of multimodal adoption within the framework of Geoffrey Moore's Chasm Theory. Essentially, the Chasm theory states that the technology adoption life cycle is different than in other adoption cycles, due to a "chasm" between the early adopters of the product (the technology enthusiasts and visionaries) and the early majority (the pragmatists). Early adopters may embrace a technology, but that technology may never cross the chasm to the early majority. Multimodal applications have yet to demonstrate significant appeal to the early majority.

Perhaps the reason that wireless technology—and thus multimodal technology—development has had such a hard time trenching first through the youth and niche markets, is because wireless and multimodal have generated their own, correlative chasm theory. The chasm, in this instance, is not one of market awareness, but of developer knowledge and confidence. Because this type of technology is so complicated, projects that "start big usually fail," says Pieraccini. This warns developers to begin with small, uncomplicated applications—a simple voice recognition app that allows you to select a ring tone, for instance.

SALT, X+V, and EMMA are three nascent, sometimes complementary, languages, all looking to be standardized in the multimodal area, and they're good places to start. Fear of a lack of standardization is not a reason to avoid getting familiar with the other aspects of multimodal development: application design, architecture, and testing are all aspects of programming that won't change, even if the language you choose becomes obsolete. When it comes time to develop multimodal applications for global deployment, you'll need to know which languages comply with which standards, where, and on what devices.

It's important to remember that mobile and multimodal development have taken off in a big way in the global marketplace. And this trend, combined with the capabilities provided by XML abstraction, has made multiple inputs an obvious destination for a wide range of applications.

Erin Gannon is an Associate Editor at DevX.
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