axbom.blog on coaching, design and ethics

What's the Deal with WAP?

September 23, 1999

I HAVE AN acquaintance who in his resume once wrote that he was experienced within the fields of CGI, Perl, SQL, SSI, CSS and TLA. The people who hired him never asked him about any of the abbreviations and perhaps they merely regarded TLA as a valuable qualification. For those of you who are uninitiated, TLA stands for “Three Letter Acronyms”.

Somehow, this story is indicative of the whole IT business. Only in this world can the word ‘WAP’ make a stock market go wild. Only in this world a technology that has not been seen or even proven to be of any value whatsoever, can make TLA-happy people all over the world scream for more. Whisper WAP and I will gladly give you money. Oooh, say it again, baby. Oh, yeeaaah….

A COLLEAGUE OF mine attended a two-day seminar on WAP. He said it was the first seminar he attended where you never actually got to see an example of the phenomenon on everyone’s lips. And why is this, do you imagine? Well, probably because there are still no WAP phones to be had and no WAP services to be used, and it is about as valuable as having only one chopstick. The only thing we can see in a demo today, is text… and who hasn’t seen text on a mobile phone!!?!

Having researched the WAP hype over a period of time I still have not found one service that has really appealed to me except for e-mail. Or rather, I haven’t seen anything new. Driving directions, great… but can’t I just pull over and ask someone — or take a cab? Check weekend weather… why don’t I just watch TV, Internet or use the weather service offered by my mobile operator? Order dinner for home delivery… why don’t I just call? Check stock prices… get the latest sports scores… I’ve done all this with SMS and the Internet. Why do I need a third technology, on a smaller screen with less bandwidth and a great limitation on features?

EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT bandwidth. Take a diet version of HTML and call it WML, take a diet version of javascript and call it WMLscript? and all of a sudden we have access to the Internet through our mobile phone because everything is without calories and information can move much faster without the fat. Except it isn’t Internet, is it? If it was Internet I would have access to all my favorite web pages, I could do what I can do on my desktop computer. This is what I would call micronet, access to a limited amount of services through your cell phone. Services that still have to be developed!

You say: But we have WAP gateways that strip HTML pages and are readable by WAP browsers. I say: Show me and I’ll believe it. If these WAP gateways really work… then we do not really need to bother about developing WAP-specific services, do we? Meanwhile, faster mobile networks are being developed and within a foreseeable future surfing the actual Internet, over the mobile phone network, won’t be too bad. Is this not what we will all do then… simply stop using WAP and go back to HTTP? What I fail to grasp is, why do we need this short period of time of using WAP, when we will all return to the Web in a year or two anyway?

I MAY BE devastatingly wrong, and I would love to hear it. I’m usually one of the first to adapt a new technology and use it . What really bugs me about WAP is the hype — the fact that WAP has so many followers before WAP has any services. The hype is due to how it is marketed; “Internet in your mobile phone”, but few people understand WAP technology and how it can benefit them, or even how the Internet will look on a 2 by 2 inch monochrome screen. And still everyone wants a piece of it!

To me, WAP has little do with the Internet, but a lot to do with messaging. WAP will probably offer a few great services, and the users will be few — but all the services will also be available on the Internet. Nobody is going to buy a WAP phone if there are no services, and few companies are going to develop a service if there are no users. My guess is that WAP phones will be handed out free if this hype is to be realised. And yes, Ericsson is in fact developing some services, I know ๐Ÿ™‚ [Editors Note: This article was written for an Ericsson E-zine, hence this is relevant.]

ONE POSITIVE NOTE about WAP before I round off. If WAP takes off like everyone says it will, then maybe we can start by getting information architects to take part in developing the web services, so that we can avoid all the mistakes made on the World Wide Web when it comes to usability. But TLA-happy companies will probably use LGM* to build services and WAP will be DOA** ๐Ÿ˜‰

* LGM – Little Green Men
**DOA – Dead on Arrival

Per Axbom

Per Axbom

@axbom

Per Axbom is a Swedish communication theorist born in Liberia. For two decades he has educated digital professionals and helped organizations with digital usability and accessibility. His job is to listen to people and make sure technology does not become a controlling and limiting factor, but instead a sustainable, caring aid. You can hear his voice on UX Podcast.

Digital compassion book cover Per's recent handbook on managing ethics in tech, Digital compassion, is available to order from Amazon in Kindle format. Send an e-mail to Per for more options.

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