Mobile SVG

August 18, 2004

Antoine Quint

As you have no doubt read in my previous article, SVG Tiny, the SVG sub-profile geared toward mobile phones, offers very interesting features: 2D-vector drawing, raster-image embedding, animation, and definition of reusable assets like fonts and graphics objects. Advance on the standards front is good, but as we all know, success of a technology is not measured only by technical merit but also by market acceptance. This article aims at giving you the lowdown in terms of where SVG Tiny is headed in the mobile marketplace.


There is a specification for SVG Mobile (containing SVG Tiny) available now. But what are the implementations for consuming SVG Tiny content on a mobile device? There are quite a few available. The first one I will mention is TinyLine, because it's easy to obtain, it's free, and it can be run on a phone that doesn't ship with a built-in SVG implementation.

TinyLine is Java and runs on various J2ME flavors (J2ME MIDP2.0, Nokia Series 60 MIDP, and J2ME Personal Profile). It is actually more than a viewer and, following the Batik philosophy, offers a full-blown toolkit on which basis a viewer has been developed and made available for free download. TinyLine is currently in version 1.6 and is passing almost all of the SVG Tiny portion of the W3C SVG 1.1 Test Suite (a basis for claiming an SVGT implementation is compliant).

ZOOMON Mobile Solutions has been in the SVG game from day one, as the first mobile vendors were joining the SVG Working Group and getting work underway toward creating the SVG Mobile specification. One of the main activities of this Swedish vendor today is to deliver a flawless (it is the only one to pass the complete SVGT test suite per the latest comparative matrix) SVG Tiny implementation to phone manufacturers and service providers under a license distribution system. The viewer can then be integrated in their applications and ultimately shipped to the end user.

As such, you won't be able to just download the ZOOMON SVGT Viewer. Luckily, the first commercial handset to ship with this viewer built-in has recently been announced in the form of the new Siemens CX65, S65, and M65 models.

Another manufacturer with whom ZOOMON has inked a deal is Sony Ericsson, with the first SVGT-powered mobile phone announced in the form of the K700, with other models to follow soon. This is the first in a series of phones to be announced throughout the year, with ZOOMON also proud to have signed a licensing deal with another leading Tier 1 phone manufacturer as well as achieving the highest level of Symbian certification for their viewer.

Additionally, ZOOMON reports recently completing several signed deals spanning multiple continents that will be announced in the near future. It is also worth noting that their SVGT Viewer was integrated within Opera's mobile browser too, allowing inline viewing of SVGT content within an XHTML document. The ZOOMON viewer can run on Symbian as well as other "closed" phone platforms.

Canadian company BitFlash was also a very early contributor to the SVG Working Group. In that capacity, BitFlash has acted as a tremendous community evangelizer for SVG Mobile and committed very early to providing high-quality SVG Tiny and SVG Basic implementations. Running on Symbian and other closed platforms, the BitFlash SVGT viewer is shipped with one of the leading phones on the Japanese market, the Sharp V601SH for the Vodafone KK network. This amazing terminal, with a huge QVGA screen (240x320 pixels), has been a hit in Japan since its release in December 2003.

A few other vendors have been active on the SVGT implementation front, too. RIM has an SVGT viewer used internally for different applications in all of their color-screen Blackberry devices, and one can only hope that soon this SVGT component will be made available for viewing any SVGT document on the Web.

Openwave, a leader in mobile-phone platform solutions, is busy implementing SVGT as part of its Phone Suite V7. While Openwave does not yet provide direct consumption of SVGT files over the wire, Openwave does support rendering of SVG content through V7's Mobile Messaging Client, Browser, File and Application Manager, and MMI framework.

Following the same pattern again, with much less precise information available at publishing time, Japanese company ACCESS, a leader in mobile-phone Internet-browsing solutions, has recently announced, at the 3GSM World Event, support for SVGT within their NetFront Mobile Client Suite 3.1, running on Linux, Symbian, Palm, Windows Mobile, and BREW for PDA-type devices.

Other vendors, including Nokia, have been very active within the SVG Working Group and show signs of an SVGT implementation. Very recently, Nokia unveiled their next version of their increasingly popular Series 60 platform. Among a host of new features, the Series 60 Second Edition platform introduces a new User Interface framework featuring support for SVG. While it is not quite clear at the time of writing what level of SVG support will be featured in Series 60 SE, we can only assume that SVG Tiny or something along its lines would be a good fit for Series 60 devices.

Given Nokia's involvement in the JSR 226 effort for SVG APIs in the J2ME platform, and Series 60's success among developers, we can hope to see JSR 226 supported on Series 60 SE. Series 60 has been used in phones from Nokia, Panasonic, Siemens Mobile, Samsung, Sendo, Lenovo, LG, and Series 60 SE should be upon us by year's end.

Content Creation

Now that we have confirmation that the deal is being sealed in bringing SVG Tiny implementations on mobile phones, it is worth taking a look at the content-generation offerings out there. As I said in the previous article, a strong use case for SVG Tiny is for the next generation of messaging (3GPP MMS) that we can expect to be high on eye-candy animations. For that purpose, designer-oriented tools are needed.

Macromedia Flash, the reference tool for vector-based animations, does not seem to be destined for SVG support anytime soon, while Adobe dropped support for their LiveMotion authoring tool planned to bring SVG support in a later release. However, some lower-profile vendors have been picking up the ball and are moving into the market.

Beatware has had an animation tool called e-Picture Pro for awhile now, but only recently added SVG as a first-class export option, along with SWF and GIF. This tool offers most of the basic features that you would expect from a vector-based animation tool with click-and-drag tweening, but offers the possibility to check out the resulting SVG animation in the accompanying BitFlash's SVGT and SVGB implementations as well.

You can be sure that your content will be displayed correctly on a mobile device. BitFlash and Beatware have teamed up so that their software can be offered as a suite, thus giving SVG service providers the full spectrum in content deployment, from creation to consumption. While e-Picture Pro is the only fully-fleshed animated Mobile SVG authoring tool out there as of now, the momentum around Mobile SVG in the industry is such that other vendors are expected to follow in their footsteps, including EvolGrafiX, which has announced its Mobile XStudio 2.0 for release later in Q2 this year.

Another major use case for SVG anticipated by many parties in the mobile industry is the usage of Mobile SVG as a rather rich graphics API for mobile devices. In order to cater to this need, BitFlash also offers a server product called the Document Transcoder.

This tool is meant to help you migrate your existing content to SVG for delivery on mobile devices. This can be done offline as a one-shot publishing process or on the fly as the user requests it. Using this server tool, one can generate content from Microsoft Office formats (PowerPoint, Word, and Excel), PDF, and CGM, to paginated SVG documents fit for consumption on a mobile phone. This product is obviously aimed principally at corporate services where these types of documents are heavily used.

Commercial Services

So now that service providers have several options available for consumption platforms, content authoring, and generation tools, what cool services are being deployed on the market using SVG? This is where things start getting interesting, as we are witnessing the realization of the years of work put into Mobile SVG both on the standard and software front.

As usual in all things mobile, the Japanese mobile vendors have been the first to strike, and there are two SVG-powered services either deployed or being deployed on this market that I can talk about today already. Vodafone KK rolled out their first services in late 2003, as the V601SH terminal was being shipped. Vodafone KK wanted a service that would enable viewing of corporate documents for employees on a remote location via their mobile phone.

Sharp joined forces with BitFlash to offer the client (using partly the BitFlash SVGT Viewer on the V601SH) and server platforms (using BitFlash's Document Transcoder) necessary for making this service a technical reality. The result is a service allowing consumption of paginated Office and PDF documents on the terminal.

As an example of this solution's robustness, the SVG Working Group had the chance to check out the mammoth SVG 1.1 spec (719 printed pages) on the V601SH, which to everyone else's amazement, was a snap, displaying the document with breathtakingly crisp text and graphics, many of us finally seeing what SVG Tiny was really capable of.

Other exciting news was recently let out during the recent 3GSM World Congress event, where Vodafone Global announced it would truly go, err, global with SVG support in its live! services, currently available in 16 countries throughout Europe and Northern Africa. Vodafone's plan is to make all live! devices except the lowest level (out of four) SVG-powered by October of this year. This comes as great news since more and more devices are shipping these days with SVGT features, and we can expect other high-profile and global operators to follow in Vodafone's footsteps.

But Vodafone is not the only service provider to have made its plans for SVG-based services public. KDDI, a leading Japanese information and telecommunications company and SVG Working Group member, is also going forward through its au service provider branch. This offering will be different than that of competitor Vodafone, with a strong focus on mapping and location-based services.

The service highlight, for instance, is the power of SVG visualization in a mapping context (as illustrated many times before in desktop applications) capable of allowing different zoom levels and display of many different layers of information on a single map. The base maps and area renderings are done either in a flat 2D view or 3D replica, as shown in the screenshots of the service running live on a phone below.

In addition, these maps have geographic coordinates and synchronize with the positioning system of the mobile phone. Therefore, the system that plots the user's location has been easily achieved with a positioning system built into the mobile phone.

The last of these screenshots also shows the most straightforward type of entertainment-oriented use cases for SVGT. Also note that KDDI R&D Laboratories has been publishing studies on the JaMaPS site, definitely worth a visit if you want to know more about Mobile SVG and GIS applications.

screenshot screenshot screenshot screenshot
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Looking Forward

It looks like SVG Tiny is seeing some dramatic realization in the mobile market and that 2004 will be the year SVG finally expands past its developer-centric roots to reach the consumer. But this is only a beginning, and with the advent of SVG 1.2, it is worth keeping informed on what new services will soon be enchanting our lives and lightening our wallets. Don't worry about keeping informed as long as you stay tuned to my revived Sacré SVG column.