The Wireless Universal Resource File

1.3 How long will WAP last?

I get asked this question so often that to save myself some time, I'm adding it to the FAQ.

First of all let me remind you that these are my personal views, and the bottom line is that it is the consumer who has the faith of WAP in his hand. Good technology has been wasted before just because the market has chosen something else to support. Take the VHS, Beta and Video2000 home video standards of some years back. Technically speaking, Video2000 offered the best quality, but the market chose VHS which is probably the worst of the three.

Anyway, on to the future of WAP. Unfortunately WAP is currently being marketed as "the internet on your phone". I'm sure that most WAP devices will be mobile phones, but WAP is not in any way limited to phones. Further, anyone who has worked with WAP knows that it's wrong to say that WAP is a "web" browser as such.

WAP can on the other hand offer services and applications similar to the ones you find on the internet in a very thin client environment. Thin meaning virtually no processor power, very limited display rendering capabilities and so on. How well these applications work are up to the developers. It's true that WAP currently limits the developers in many ways, but the technology is new, and there are ways around almost every obstacle.

Many see the death of WAP when they are shown hand held micro PCs and PDAs, arguing that the limited display size and lack of a proper keyboard will mean the end of WAP. Personally I think this is wrong. First the amount of devices you'll end up with. Most people will need to carry both their mobile phone and their micro PC/PDA. My opinion is that the consumer will think; the more I can do with just one device the better. Then there's the question of cost. Two devices cost more than one. The majority of WAP users should be normal people, and they'll want to spend as little as possible.

Manufacturers have and will try to solve these problems by combining the PC and the mobile phone. The problem then becomes size. For a device like this to be usable by a human, there are certain restrictions. First of all the input interface. Currently the best input interface available is the common qwerty keyboard. For this keyboard to work, the keys and the space between them must have a minimum size or only very small children will be able to use it. Second, the output interface. The human eye I guess is best suited to look at a display down to five inches. Anything smaller than this and you'll need to move the device closer to your eyes. A display like this will make a hand held device very large and impossible to put in a normal sized pocket. The typical mobile phone display is about two inches. If you want to present a normal 640 by 480 image on a two inch display, you'd have to have the display surgically attached to your cornea. I doubt this would sell.

The typical combination PDA and mobile phone today is something like the Nokia Communicator. The drawback with this is that you cannot comfortably use the device unless you have one hand free to hold the device or that the device is firmly seated. A normal mobile phone can be operated with just one hand, both holding and "typing". Some argue that it is impossible to type using the numeric keypads of a mobile phone. It's true that it's more complicated than using a normal keyboard, but then again you're not meant to be writing an essay on a WAP device. And the billions of SMS messages sent from mobile phones every day at least proves that it's not impossible.

The bottom line is that WAP is not "the web" on your mobile phone, and that WAP should have all the prospects of a long life as long as developers understand that it's what's inside the applications that matter, and not necessarily how it is packaged.

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