Wireless Application Protocol WAP

As it turned out, allowing direct phone access to the Internet didn't scale well for mobile.

By this time, professional websites were full color and chock full of text, images, and other sorts of media.These sites relied on JavaScript, Flash, and other technologies to enhance the user experience, and they were often designed with a target resolution of 800x600 pixels and higher.

When the first clamshell phone, the Motorola StarTAC, was released in 1996, it merely had an LCD 10-digit segmented display. (Later models would add a dot-matrix type display.) Meanwhile, Nokia released one of the first slider phones, the 8110—fondly referred to as "The Matrix Phone" because the phone was heavily used in films.The 8110 could display four lines of text with 13 characters per line. Figure 1.3 shows some of the common phone form factors.

With their postage stamp-sized low-resolution screens and limited storage and processing power, these phones couldn't handle the data-intensive operations required by traditional web browsers. The bandwidth requirements for data transmission were also costly to the user.

The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) standard emerged to address these concerns. Simply put,WAP was a stripped-down version of HTTP, which is the backbone protocol of the Internet. Unlike traditional web browsers,WAP browsers were designed to run within the memory and bandwidth constraints of the phone.Third-party WAP sites

Figure 1.3 Various mobile phone form factors: the candy bar, the slider, and the clamshell.

served up pages written in a markup language called Wireless Markup Language (WML). These pages were then displayed on the phone's WAP browser. Users navigated as they would on the Web, but the pages were much simpler in design.

The WAP solution was great for handset manufacturers.The pressure was off——they could write one WAP browser to ship with the handset and rely on developers to come up with the content users wanted.

The WAP solution was great for mobile operators. They could provide a custom WAP portal, directing their subscribers to the content they wanted to provide, and rake in the data charges associated with browsing, which were often high.

Developers and content providers didn't deliver. For the first time, developers had a chance to develop content for phone users, and some did so, with limited success.

Most of the early WAP sites were extensions of popular branded websites, such as CNN.com and ESPN.com, which were looking for new ways to extend their readership. Suddenly phone users accessed the news, stock market quotes, and sports scores on their phones.

Commercializing WAP applications was difficult, and there was no built-in billing mechanism. Some of the most popular commercial WAP applications that emerged during this time were simple wallpaper and ringtone catalogues that enabled users to personalize their phones for the first time. For example, a user browsed a WAP site and requested a specific item. He filled out a simple order form with his phone number and his handset model. It was up to the content provider to deliver an image or audio file compatible with the given phone. Payment and verification were handled through various premium-priced delivery mechanisms such as Short Message Service (SMS), Enhanced Messaging Service (EMS), Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), and WAP Push.

WAP browsers, especially in the early days, were slow and frustrating. Typing long URLs with the numeric keypad was onerous.WAP pages were often difficult to navigate. Most WAP sites were written one time for all phones and did not account for individual phone specifications. It didn't matter if the end user's phone had a big color screen or a postage stamp-sized monochrome screen; the developer couldn't tailor the user's experience. The result was a mediocre and not very compelling experience for everyone involved.

Content providers often didn't bother with a WAP site and instead just advertised SMS short codes on TV and in magazines. In this case, the user sent a premium SMS message with a request for a specific wallpaper or ringtone, and the content provider sent it back. Mobile operators generally liked these delivery mechanisms because they received a large portion of each messaging fee.

WAP fell short of commercial expectations. In some markets, such as Japan, it flourished, whereas in others, such as the United States, it failed to take off. Handset screens were too small for surfing. Reading a sentence fragment at a time, and then waiting seconds for the next segment to download, ruined the user experience, especially because every second of downloading was often charged to the user. Critics began to call WAP "Wait and Pay."

Finally, the mobile operators who provided the WAP portal (the default home page loaded when you started your WAP browser) often restricted which WAP sites were ac-cessible.The portal enabled the operator to restrict the number of sites users could browse and to funnel subscribers to the operator's preferred content providers and exclude competing sites.This kind of walled garden approach further discouraged third-party developers, who already faced difficulties in monetizing applications, from writing applications.

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