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First of all, even if WAP is considered obsolete and said to have
disappeared, the number of phone models supporting WAP is steadily growing
in Europe (NB : I'm French and I work in a company who sells a multi-access
(including WAP) application server, also a WAP Forum Associate Member). A
majority of the phone you can buy at any retail store supports WAP 1.2.1.
The handset renewal period is estimated to 18 months by analysts, so we
should expect the proportion of deployed WAP phones in Europe to raise
But the fact that WAP is not as successfull as expected is blatant. Here are
a few reasons for that :
1) Too high expectations.
WAP has been marketed a "Internet on your phone". A simple demo of a WAP
phone could easily prove you that it was quite limited.
People lured by the marketing fluff into looking at that WAP thing were
easily thinking they were taken for fools when seeing the real thing
Yet even with very low bandwidth, graphical resolution and ergonomics, a
device could be successfull, the French Minitel is an example for that. Even
a crappy device can be successfull if there is a killer app available for it
(the Minitel killer app was notoriously adult chat rooms).
2) No killer app.
The "Internet on your phone" meme was probably a killer meme, here. There
was no real understanding of the fact that WAP users were using their phone
while mobile, and that if someone would wait for 15 minutes until they reach
a proper PC with high speed Internet Access (heck, even a modem is high
speed compared to WAP's 9,6 kbps), they would not go through the hassle of
using a WAP site that was a bad translation of a badly designed Web site.
Developing WAP applications require a non-nonsense approach of usability,
both for the service itself and its ergonomy.
I don't need to buy books from a WAP phone, I can wait 15 minutes to get to
my home/office PC, or if I'm in town I can directly go into a book store.
But that didn't prevent an online book store from having a project of WAP
e-commerce site for which we have been consulted.
Moreover, your site usability had betted be finely tuned and tested, because
if you force your users to struggle with your site to get what they want,
given that they pay the communication fees, they will leave your site and
you'll never hear of them again. Anyway
A lot of time has been lost developing the wrong services with the wrong
apps. This turned away many potential users. The lack of users then
discouraged further interesting services from appearing. Technology misuse
has killed WAP by reinforcing the chicken-and-egg effect.
3) Costs and revenue model.
WAP is charged to the user on a per-time basis. Depending on your mobile
services provider, it is charged in or out your time credit (when charged
out of the time credit, the costs can be quite high in France). Per-time
charging + low bandwidth = unsatisfied customer.
Plus, all the money goes to the mobile services provider. I don't know any
European operator that shares its benefits made on WAP airtime. This is bad
since as the user is charged on a per-time basis and the bandwidth is low,
the use of advertisement to generate revenue is not possible.
This is to be compared with i-Mode (NTT Docomo, deployed in Japan but coming
in Netherlands and Germany) which at least proposes a shared revenue model.
Content providers are therefore encouraged to develop new services, and as
they compete for users, the quality and originality of services is
increasing. Without advertising,
4) Bad timing, first strike.
It is not easy to verify this, but WAP phones may have suffered from the
fact that they came on a saturated (or nearly saturated) mobile phone
In Europe, the number of mobile phone owners was stabilising ; the
interesting offers that provided a strong rebate for mobile phones if you
subscribed to a mobile operator was maybe appealing, but it needed you to
change your phone number.
So, to buy a WAP phone at an interesting price, either you had to be a
first-time customer (which is less common on a saturated market), or to
change your mobile operator (you had to churn). Changing your phone is a
strong churning incentive, but the volume of churn generated by this
incentive is small comparated to the growth rate of a non-saturated market.
I think the problem here is that WAP allowed companies with an Internet
experience to enter the mobile phone market, without preparing them to its
specificities. On the Web, a browser is a relatively easy to replace piece
of software. With WAP, your browser is embedded inside a 150-300 euro device
that is competing with the one a big number of people already have in their
pocket. This makes the market very different and very reluctant to
5) Bad timing, second strike.
The timing was bad with regards to the rise and fall of the Internet startup
bubble. WAP arrived on the market when the so-called "new economy" was
booming, and lots of company were created to ride the WAP wave. Then the
bubble bursted, and there was a strong disillusion feeling. I think the WAP
baby has been thrown away with the new economy bath water.
6) GPRS and UMTS
A lot has been promised for WAP, and people were deceived. A lot has been
promised for GPRS and UMTS, too, but the general availability of these
technology went from "extremely soon" to "somewhere in 2006-2007 (for
Combined with the need to buy a new device, this rapidly caused people to
admit the general saying that "WAP [was] dead" and wait for the next
generation. This seemed reasonable when GPRS was promised for 2002 and UMTS
for 2003-2004, but this slowed the growth of the WAP phone base, and
effectively contributed to making sure that WAP wouldn't be successfull. The
irony is that GPRS and UMTS will suffer from the same problem as WAP did,
namely the renewal of mobile phones.
7) Technical problems
I put it as a last item. People may scorn the WAP Forum in their vain
attempt to redefine a whole independant set of network layers, but they were
truly successfull. WAP does work. WAP 2.0, especially over GPRS (if we
finally get it) will work even better.
It's true that the fact that the WAP presentation language WML was very
different from HTML has slowed the development of WAP applications. But it
would be ridiculous to expect that this would have been different if the
presentation language was HTML or XHTML. The point is that the particular
ergonomics of the phone (screen size, navigation capabilities) forces
developers to design an application specifically for WAP browsing. Even if
the presentation language was HTML, there would still be a need for specific
development for phones.
WML is not a complicated presentation language, and its XML root make it
easy to write well formed and valid WML content. Even if real WAP phone have
different behaviours and bugs (by having written an adaptation layer that
handles 60+ WAP phones, their specific screen sizes, behaviours and bugs, I
can tell it), the situation is much better than if we had 60+ phone models
based on a loose HTML subset.
WAP 2.0 supports XHTML Basic for basic pages, and the full WML 2.0 DTD is an
XHTML DTD, with lots of specific tags and attributes, which is why I laugh
when I hear "standard XHTML". By including extension capabilities, XHTML
standardizes the fact that nearly anything can be XHTML. Anyway, WAP 2.0 is
fully XHTML compliant, but this won't mean that specific adaptation won't be
needed, believe me.
That is the real technical problem. It is not due to WAP itself, but simply
to the fact that developing an application for a WAP client is the perfect
use case to check the flexibility of already existing presentation
frameworks, MVC design patterns et al. More than often, our customers
realised that taking their already existing web site and building a WAP
application with the same content and logic was more or less hopeless.
>De : AManns@uss.com [mailto:AManns@uss.com]
>Envoye : lundi 11 mars 2002 13:49
>A : email@example.com
>Objet : [xml-dev] What happened to WAP
>I remember a few years ago that WAP was supposed to be the
>next big thing.
>Since then I haven't really been following any of the HTML,XML... world
>because my work led me in a different direction. Lately I've
>been doing a
>lot more J2EE stuff and am trying to learn about more web
>based stuff. My
>question is, what happened to WAP/WML. Why is is obsolete now?
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