WAP Is Dead

This just in from the “Emperor Has No Clothes” Department.

Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is dead. It’s a stiff bereft of life, it rests in peace. It has expired and gone to meet its maker. WAP 1.0 is an ex-protocol!

You may wonder how I know this. There are two reasons. First, users say so. Second, I’ve tried it, I’m a user, and I say so.

How did this happen? Wasn’t WAP supposed to be the next big thing?

Well, for starters it’s a kludge. You have to wade through six or more menu screens in order to get anything from anywhere, let alone what you want from where you want it. All those commercials of hip guys and dolls selling stocks and buying pomade off their cell phones are nothing but hype. Even getting a weather report from a WAP phone is a chore.

Next there’s the interface four lines with eight characters on each line. My first laptop was a TRS Model 100, whose screen held four lines of 40 characters. It was great for taking notes and doing short news stories in some ways it’s still the best PC I ever owned. But this is the 21st century, and I’m supposedly buying convenience. Oh, and did I tell you the interface isn’t the same on all WAP phones? Try writing better screens when you don’t know what your screens will look like.

Finally, there’s the fact that wireless vendors aren’t really giving you a “Wireless Web.” They’re giving you wireless private networks. AT&T’s basic PocketNet Service accesses only the 47 sites AT&T does business with. Copying web content to make it accessible via WAP may violate copyright law anyway.

In Europe, which is far ahead of the United States in mobile technology, debate has already begun on what will replace today’s WAP either WAP 2.0 or something from Japan called I-Mode. The response to the market failure of WAP is to essentially start pushing out new versions with new buzzwords as fast as possible.

But I think the real problem here is a lot more basic. A text screen, no matter how cute and tiny, is a terrible interface for a cell phone, especially when (like most Americans) you’re using it while driving 75 miles per hour down the freeway. It’s a phone, for crying out loud! If you want a computer you get a PalmPilot.

The web interface for a cell phone should be your voice. We don’t need software, we need silicon, something that can synthesize a variety of voices and read text to you. We also need to incorporate E911 technology in the thing, so what it says is based on where you are. This way you’re pressing buttons to get answers to questions (“Where’s a deal on some good Chinese food?”) instead of trying to figure out how to ask your question.

Technology is probably a few years away from that. By the time the technology is ready, WAP will look nothing like it does today. My advice is don’t buy the hype, and don’t waste your time.

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