WAP 2.0, the latest version of the wireless application protocol for mobile devices is released this week. It now aligns with some key internet standards, which should make it easier to use and more useful in microbrowser-based wireless applications.

Unveiled in 1998, the first WAP spec was designed as a communications protocol and application environment for enabling a WAP-compliant browser in a handheld device to work with information, formatted in WAP's WML (wireless markup language), on a server.

But the relentlessly hyped protocol suffered from several shortcomings. One was that content makers had to either create pages in WML for WAP browsers and again in HTML (hypertext markup language – the lingua franca of the web) for web browsers.

Secondly, WAP didn't support some key internet standards, chiefly TLS (transport layer security), ruling out secure transactions such as those used to buy goods online and send secure information such as web email. Third, many of the early WAP-based services, mostly intended for web-enabled mobile phone users, were badly designed: they were cumbersome, confusing and hard to navigate.

WAP 2.0 addresses the first two problems at least. The WAP Forum, the vendor association that develops and promotes the specification, worked much more closely with the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) to build version 2.0.

Specifically, WAP 2.0 now supports XHTML, which the W3C intends will replace HTML. In layman's terms, XHTML is HTML written in the underlying language of WML, XML. Documents written in XHTML will be readable by both web and WAP browsers.

The WAP Forum also says WAP 2.0 applications are compatible with WAP 1.0 applications.

The updated spec also supports greater bandwidth, faster data speeds (for 2.5 and 3G networks such as GPRS and UMTS), and a wider range of processors and screen dimensions.

These changes should make WAP a more viable mainstream environment for thin-client applications — for small devices equipped with a browser for accessing server-based functions and information over a wireless connection.