Give WAP a Chance

We don’t need to be told that WAP has not yet set the world on fire, especially when we’ve only seen the tip of the mobile Internet iceberg.

It’s been obvious to most in our industry that WAP has not lived up to everyone’s expectations. It’s been oversold; the public is feeling let down — it is not the “mobile Internet” promised by BT Cellnet and company; and the digital media industry has been quick to turn about-face and join in WAP bashing. But we believe there’s been too much negativity, and the overselling has now hindered acceptance of the positives that have undoubtedly come out of the “2G” explosion.

There are some types of WAP services and sites that are genuinely useful. Here are some top-level attributes that we believe can lead to a successful WAP site:

First, low-information bandwidth. The information presented back to the user must be easily digestible in one or one and a bit WAP screens. So content owners must be very careful with copyrighting. In general, web content will need repurposing for WAP sites, with the exception of headline-type information.

Second, there should be little or no user text input required. As we all know, text entry on mobiles is laborious. WAP sites requiring any text input are not likely to be used, and those asking for lots of input will almost never get revisited.

Some simple suggestions could really help usability. If users do have to log in to access either secure or personal information, make sure they have an opportunity to save the login information by bookmarking a page that provides auto-login from that point onward. Also make sure people can use PINs, if they prefer, and minimize entry boxes that require special characters, which are even more difficult to enter. (I have often thought that if Nokia could implement the IntelliType that exists on the 7110 into WAP input boxes, we’d all move a step forward.)

Realistically, WAP does have its limitations. If a consumer is in the market for a new car and is researching cars on the web, a list of a car’s features does little to inspire the consumer compared with wonderful interior and exterior 360 rotations of the latest model on the PC. There is a usability problem due to the screen size. Also, security, speed of information, and connection reliability all pose further challenges for WAP technology.

In some ways, marketing and advertising is our own worst enemy and can portray services ahead of where they are, raising consumers’ expectations. We must bear in mind that although we want to meet those expectations, we can’t promise something that we can’t deliver.

Industry experts have no doubt the 3G wireless networks will provide data speeds of up to 2 megabytes per second. This would mean mass adoption of the wireless Internet could be in place in the next three to five years. Higher bandwidth services and rich technology, such as Java, is inevitable. On the global front, Japan will install the next generation in the coming year, followed closely by some European countries.

Have a look at http://www.nokia.com/3g/umts/index.html, select the demo, and think about the possibilities. WAP provides a good starting point, and those who experiment with it will be in a stronger position and will have learned more than those trying to catch up when the 3G explosion happens.

Some sites to visit:

www.swrt.com/wap

WAPaResult.com

www.totalsports.net/wml/index.whl

wap.tiny.com (calendar) and wap.tiny.com

www.railtrack.co.uk/i.wml

wap.laterooms.com

www.wap.wannaBeThere.com

wap.digitallook.com

wap.ft.comwap.ft.com

wap.worldroom.com/hotels/wwide.wml

Sometimes it is easier to jump on the bandwagon and not see the long-term benefits, but businesses need to consider and experiment with WAP now. You want your customers to continue to use your services, rather than the services of a forward-thinking competitor.

WAP is only the very beginning for the mobile Internet, and we should be thinking about the big picture: a multiple digital channel environment driven by one engine. WAP technology can be criticized, but at least give the medium a chance to develop and deliver something that will be truly unique.

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