WAP Bashing is Misdirected

from the going-against-the-grain dept

Occasional Techdirt correspondent Derek Kerton has chimed in with his latest offering, suggesting that WAP is not as bad as we’ve all been claiming it is. He definitely provides a different perspective, and one that is worth reading. I’m not sure I’m convinced yet, but I can be a little too skeptical for my own good. Click below to read what Derek has to say. Then, feel free to comment and tell us if we’ve been too harsh on WAP or if Derek is just trying to make excuses for a horrible standard.

WAP is Not That Bad
by Derek Kerton

Now that the Good Ship WAP has been overhyped and is sailing into the stormy waters of the Sea of Implementation, a growing number of journalists and self-appointed wireless pundits have started taking pot shots over the ship's bow. We in the industry are partly to blame for setting expectations too high, but don't blame WAP if you're not satisfied.

WAP is not to blame for the majority of the complaints against it. It is a decent standard, which makes it easy for companies like mine to develop content that will work similarly across a wide range of devices from multiple manufacturers. And unlike some 'other' standard, this one is open and is modified by the various members of the WAP forum. It is hard to understate the value of a standard in advancing an industry, so why the glut of WAP-bashers? Blame poor design, corner-cutting companies, and misunderstanding.

A serious misunderstanding is to expect the phone-based Internet to remotely resemble the WWW. The web is a multimedia, multicolor, large-screen medium with multiple navigational paths and deep, rich content. The phone screen sucks. The WWW is like the Sunday all-you-can-eat buffet at your local roadhouse, and using a I-phone is like going to the buffet with a salad plate. You can't get all the richness and variety of the buffet on your plate - you can only take a subset that you like best with you.

Let's disaggregate the web page, which many mistakenly think IS the Internet. Web pages are just aggregations of information. The fundamental element is the information, not the web page. Information is the building block from which web pages can be built, just as one can use info to build a book, a TV show, a magazine, a speech, or a candy bar wrapper. The Internet is just the conduit for the information that carries it from one place to another using TCP/IP. The web page is but one manifestation of the info that happens to be designed for your 17" monitor, pirated software-laden, picture-of-your-dog-screensaver, PC. Here's the rub, that manifestation, the WWW page, will not fit on the phone. It will look like something that dog in your screensaver left behind.

eCompany.com observes, "websites, even after conversion to WAP, are designed to be viewed on a large desktop, not a minuscule cell-phone screen." I state once and for all WEBSITES SHOULD NEVER BE CONVERTED TO WAP. Whomever designs or launches such a WAPsite is causing the entire industry to take a step backward. WAP pages should be built, ground-up, from the fundamental building block of information, with a good design that takes into account the screen size, the I/O limitations, the mobile nature of the device, and the limited navigational controls.

Most people assume that the Internet is a medium, and that WWW pages = Internet. Not so. The Internet is a transport protocol, the WWW is one single medium, Internet-enabled phones are another, and home Internet appliances and webpads yet others. The lines between the media are fading, but they still exist. With the growing number of devices and media, it's tempting to try to re-use work, ex: by cramming a webpage into a phone using some crappy software transcoder. To do the job well requires effort and cost; content providers like my company have to prepare the information specifically for each medium, QA test it, and then test it with users. To cut corners simply results in dissatisfied users - like the pundits now bashing WAP. Don't blame WAP, blame the companies that want to jump on the wireless bandwagon without doing the necessary work.

Wireless applications can give people instant access to vital pieces of information, let them read a joke, raise a bid on an auction, or trade stock on the spot. We application providers can build a good phone app that lets you do almost any brief activity that interacts with information on the Internet. Let us know what you want to do from a phone, and we will eventually build it - just don't tell us you want to "surf the web" or everyone will be disappointed.

Derek Kerton,
Sr. Mgr. - Wireless
Walt Disney Internet Group.
air.go.com or go.com on your phone

Useful application ideas can be sent to Derek Kerton at derek.kerton@dig.com

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Comments on “WAP Bashing is Misdirected”

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Lindsay says:

WAP is crap

The problem is not WAP per se – the low level protocols are perfectly OK. What *is* wrong is the WML “standard”. The model behind WML bears no realtion whatsoever to the model supported by HTML. This would be perfectly OK if the mobile world was entirely disconnected from the wired world, but it isn’t. There is no straightforward mapping from HTML to WML so pages have to be redesigned from scratch, thus doubling the effort required to provide a service. This is a bad thing.

Then don;t get me started on the incompatibilities that exist between different implementations of WML support on different phones……

Dave says:

don't believe the hype

Personally, I think that one of the main causes of WAP-bashing is the hype that the medium has received. It was billed as the “next big thing”, a bit like the WWW was a couple of years back. The grim reality of WWW is poor performance from dial-up ISP’s, 404 pages, etc. etc. People *have* overcome this to a degree, but now use the WWW in all it’s technicolour, multimedia glory as the yardstick to measure WAP – which, as the article points out – doesn’t happen on a miniature monochrome screen… which is when the sinking feeling, and the inevitable anti-WAP backlash, begins.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: don't believe the hype

Fortunately, I think the web in all it’s
“technicolor, multimedia glory” is equally
dead. Notice how much nicer sites like
Google.com or TechDirt.com are despite their
complete abstinence from Flash and other
awful glitz that pollutes much of the
In the long-run I see a victory for content
over form. A simple easily-navigable and
usable site is likely to be used more often
than a flashy site with marquees and blinking
animated text and graphics.

J.T. says:

Wap has it's uses

Speaking as one who uses multiple WAP devices on a daily basis I can say that wap has it’s place. I’d have given my front teeth to have something like that when I was in field service looking for parts availability (people are hard to get ahold of sometimes believe it or not). Sales people can use wap access to databases too in a pinch (laptops are better but not always around). I also use it to read the news during my son’s daily swimming lesson. Why don’t I just buy a paper … call it a conscious choice not to promote paper based news distribuition. WAP isn’t all bad, we just need to find the right niche for it.

Mark Baker (profile) says:

One Web


There are many factual errors in your article, but I wanted to focus on (IMHO) the most important one;

> the WWW is one single medium, Internet-enabled phones are another, and home Internet appliances and webpads yet others

The World Wide Web is not a PC-only phenomena. It is an information space that spans all means of accessing it (the media you refer to).

Sure, there’s a lot of Web content that is designed to be only viewed on PCs, but that doesn’t mean that HTML itself cannot be used for content for non-PC devices, nor does it mean that all existing content is unsuitable for small devices – you’d be surprised.

The last thing we need is different ways of communicating information for different devices, as you appear to suggest above. That’s hardly useful. Luckily the WAPforum (which I have represented Sun Micro on for the past 18 months) has finally accepted this (due in no small part to Sun lobbying), and is in the process of junking much of what WAP 1.x is, and finally getting down to the business of reusing the work of smart people from the IETF and W3C, and adding value in the way that you’d expect wireless experts to do so.


Andrew says:


I got cheesed of with my WAP phone after a couple of times using it, for the same reasons you describe. WAP would be an effective protocol if content was designed with WAP in mind. Also the cost of using WAP phones is not particularly attractive. Companies should cover the cost and realise that this would be a brilliant approach to direct marketing.etc.etc…

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