picture of Mark Williams
The purpose of this article is to address the apparently widespread wave of pessimism surrounding WAP technology and of its impending demise!
There are many articles currently being pushed from pillar to post around the Internet, about how WAP is about to fall down around our ears and how WAP is no good, people don't like it and it's unreliable! I thought I would take some time out to give a different viewpoint.
At this stage, you might well say that I have a vested interest; after all my own WAPMail client was recently put forward for nomination at the WAP Awards 2000 and I have written on this matter before. To a certain extent, you would be quite right. However, I also want to take the opportunity to put right some myths, which people are willingly "buying into".
What is WAP?
WAP is...
"... An agreed standard by which to distribute data..."
Fundamentally, WAP is an agreed standard by which to distribute data for WAP enabled (mobile) devices. These devices can range from the Nokia 7110 (probably the most well know - due to the fact it was the first to hit the market and appeared in the film "The Matrix"), through to palm-top devices and potentially microwave ovens etc. That's it! That's all it is. A way to move data about in small chunks so people can read it and work with it "on the move" - or at least using a device, which is not a PC and does not weigh too much!
What is not WAP?
[Image:] What is WAP not? It is not, was not designed to be, and will never be the meaning of life. Quite frankly, television advertisements would have you believe that without a WAP enabled phone, you were missing out on life! That is not the case! WAP does not do your laundry for you, teach you to "surf a 50ft wave" or walk on water!
The reality is that many of the advertised "features" are not yet widely available. Yes, they are in trial, but not widely available. They are in trial because many are reliant upon the next generation of phones and communication (GPRS etc….). Remember those bidding wars that were going on earlier this year for billions of UK pounds? Well, that's what they were all about. Mind you, a word of warning! When GPRS does finally hit the streets, don't expect to be enlightened with the meaning of life. At the end of the day, it is still going to be about the transfer of small amounts of data - resulting in data-transactions!
Perception
I recently read an article, which talked - in reasonable depth - about how devices running with a leading manufacturer's software/operating system (and, no I don't mean Microsoft) were so much better than WAP devices, because they didn't stop working if you hit a "black-spot". Admittedly, the article was talking-down WAP in favour of this. But fundamentally, people read this and believe it! Not only are articles such as this down-right misleading and poorly researched, but they make crucial errors! You might as well say, "I'm looking for a comfortable ride, should I buy a Rolls Royce or a Ford Mondeo?". The point is both are cars and both get you from A to B, but everyone knows that the ride will be different - and, as such, probably incomparable.
Why WAP?
Formula 1
"I can get lap by lap information fed to me via my WAP phone. Why the hell would I want to?"
Right now, I have been using WAP since its inception to the UK market and writing applications for it. It hasn't changed my life - I'm not that sad to let it! I am a Formula 1 fan - actually McLaren, but that's by the by. The point is, if I want, I can get lap by lap information fed to me live onto my phone whilst each race goes on. Why? Why the hell would I want to? The fact is, I can watch it on TV - and if I can't get to a TV, I can ring a friend (using my WAP phone) and ask them how the race is going! It's easier, cheaper and I get a more personally tailored approach - and isn't that what the Internet is about right now?
So, why do I continue to use WAP? Well, I use it for work. I can get to my E-Mail, I send quick responses, I can get to my diary; basically, I can do all the usual PIM stuff. It can be a pain to use - and quite fiddly, but I can do it if I wish to. It is good if I'm on the move and need that kind of information quickly.
Our representatives are able to get to current, live rates, stock prices, etc. in real-time, without having to wait for a PC to boot-up, dial-in, authenticate etc… In these kind of environments, WAP is great - and, to a certain extent, it is changing peoples lives because it means they can drill-down to key information reasonably quickly. It means they look like they are working for an up-to-date Company and it means they can get on with what matters, not waiting for PC's to boot.
The Future
[Image:] The Future Many articles today talk about the demise of WAP. In fact, things couldn't be further from the truth! WAP may well be over-hyped and over-marketed for the consumer today, but for business, it certainly does have a place. Mind you, it would help if it was compared on a like for like with other technologies - but that's another story!
Anyway, in the short to medium term, WAP may be superseded by other technologies and other ways of doing things, but for me, there are a number of significant advantages for moving to WAP technology now.
First, as a former professional developer, I can see the challenges that WAP development has put up and it doesn't stop there. The fact is, right now, I know of projects, which were started last year - before most people had heard of WAP (outside the realms of the 1960's BatMan and Robin films), where people are now saying we want that delivered using WAP as well as Internet and Client/Server. The fact is, WAP more than any other of its big brother's (XML, XSL etc…), is forcing developers to think about the development process and the scope for development.
Today, people are talking Internet and WAP. Tomorrow it could be Internet, WAP, Digital TV, Video Phone, and Car Dashboard. Some of these may appear futuristic right now, but they are being worked upon as we speak!
Develop Success
"... More and more inportant for developers to be able to write once and have it deployed anywhere!"
The point is, that as the technologies emerge (all based on Open Standards like WAP), it becomes more and more important for developers to be able to write code once and have it deployed anywhere! For many, this is just beginning to dawn on them; for others, it's a case of "I told you so! And, you said it would never happen!"
As I said earlier, WAP will be superseded; but that's a good thing. All things must grow. However, there is a key difference here. That difference is superceded. 10 years ago, maybe just 3 years ago, we would be saying replaced, but right now, it's superceded!
Because of the success of Open Standards, whatever we learn from developing WAP, we will be able to take with us! So, if we learn to shift meaningful data around, no matter what the medium because of the constraints of WAP development, that has to be a good thing!
WAP Problems
I continually read about the problems people have navigating WAP enabled sites. I have experienced similar problems myself. However, when I investigate further, I usually discover that the site has not been built for WAP. Instead, it is using a software filter to determine if it is sending data to a phone or web-browser.
[Image:] WAP Problems Generally speaking, these filters are easy to set-up and get your existing site up and running, but nothing can replace handcrafting - especially where you are dealing with a protocol that is extremely sensitive about standards conformance. The fact that your Nokia 7110 displays a message saying "Unable to..." is not necessarily a failing of WAP, rather a failing of either the browser or the web site.
In my experience, sites, which are handcrafted for WAP, generally perform far better than those making use of filtering software.
Personal Conclusions
Right now, the many stories I read about the demise of WAP, talk about WAP from a consumers perspective. I guess, to a certain extent they are right; it is awkward and there are problems with web-sites. But from a business user and developers perspective, I fail to see anything but good come out of either the demise of WAP or the longevity of it!
Mark who?
[Image:] Mark A. Williams Mark Williams, who currently lives in the UK, is currently the Senior Consultant to one of Europe's top 10 Financial Services companies. He is well travelled work wise having worked as far afield as Sao Paolo in Brazil, not to mention all of Europe and somewhere else exotic too. Knows lots about Video Conferencing, Linux, Windows NT, PHP, Perl, Internet Technology and Formula 1 Motor Racing. Sites he has been involved in include HouseAbout.com, F1Circle.com and e-sphere.net although he is currently working on a further 5 sites for clients and has previously writen material for PHPBuilder.com.