Corporate Users Giving Up on WAP-Enabled Phones

Just one year ago, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) was the talk of the town. Entrepreneurs and software innovators talked about turning to the open-source standard for wireless Web applications in light of the downturn in “pure-play” Internet start-ups. And their business plans were met with warm receptions from venture capitalists.

But over the last 12 months, WAP has caught a lot of flak for premature promises of next-generation 2.5G or 3G cellular networks despite the repeated efforts by its principal developer, Openwave Systems Inc., to stem one wave of concern after another. Openwave has tried introducing a graphic users interface or even supporting Sun Microsystems’ Java programming language. And yet (most recently at this spring’s Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) show) Openwave CEO’s Don Listwin has still pleaded to the developer community to support the protocol and build out useful wireless services…the next killer app, if you will.

But now Openwave’s WAP is catching heat from Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group. In its latest research, Meta Group said as much as 80 to 90 percent of corporate users that purchased WAP-enabled phones have abandoned the data capabilities of these phones.

“These phones are currently used by corporations mainly for the standard voice features,” said Jack Gold, a vice president of Web & Collaboration Strategies at Meta Group.

Ironically, Meta Group’s findings come one day after an analyst at Thomas Weisel Partners spoke glowingly of the protocol. The investment bank said channel checks indicate that demand is growing for WAP services, with 13 carriers planning on 2.5G launches in the second half of the year. WAP has also begun to find favor with European carriers.

To be sure, Meta Group found that corporate users in Europe and Asia are less disillusioned, with up to 65 to 75 percent no longer using their cellular phones for Internet connectivity. But until handset makers can improve the ergonomics, disillusioned users will continue to find it difficult to access data especially given the effort required to obtain information.

“With new technologies on the horizon, we should see data access from mobile phones pick up again during the next two to three years — but only if the ergonomics are substantially improved,” said Gold.

Meta Group said it expects the future market to move beyond current WAP-enabled phones to encompass various wireless devices that meet enterprise user needs. Users that are communication-centric will choose one of the next-generation smart phones (e.g., Kyocera, Samsung, Ericsson) that offer personal digital assistant (PDA)-like functionality built into the phone. Meanwhile, users that are primarily data-centric will choose somewhat larger and more costly devices for their data processing capabilities, with add-on wireless communications as a secondary benefit.

“We have a catch-22, because most cell phone users want their devices to stay small — and are demanding the highest levels of portability. Yet the small size prohibits them from being ergonomically correct and data-intensive. That’s why a cell phone will never replace a PDA, and a PDA will never replace a phone.”

Reprinted from internet.com’s InternetNews.com.

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