Let me tell you why Wireless Access Protocol
is going to fall flat on its fat face: it doesn't
Don't believe me? Maybe you'll believe Jakob
Nielsen, principal of the Nielsen Norman Group
(www.nngroup.com). Nielsen's made a reputation
for himself by being the expert on the user experience.
He and his group judge technologies not by technical
metrics or marketing hype, but by how real users
feel about really using a technology. And real
users really don't like WAP.
In his group's latest study, Deja Vu: 1994
All Over Again, they took a small group, gave
them WAP phones - Ericsson R320s and Nokia 7110es
to be precise - and told them to do simple tasks
with them. You know, check on the weather, look
at the day's headlines, see what's on television
tonight, all the things people would want do
with a portable Internet access device.
Then, they let them have the devices for a week
and asked them to do it all again. And what did
They found in London, a city much more WAP
friendly than anywhere in the States, that a
whopping 70% said they wouldn't want to use a
WAP phone anytime in the next year. It doesn't
take long to see why. It took the users after
a week's experience, almost 50 seconds to get
the headlines, over a minute and a half to see
when the Simpsons were on; and almost two minutes
to see if it was raining outside.
I did my own test. I took today's Washington
Post and found that getting the headlines took
about .5 seconds, finding out that the Simpsons
were on the local Fox station at 6 PM took 3
seconds and finding out that tomorrow was going
to be cold took about 20 seconds because I was
distracted by a Christmas sale ad. Oh yeah, WAP
is going to do a lot for me.
That said, the Nielsen Norman Group does expect
the wireless, handset Internet to take off, but
not in 2001. Try a few more years, and then it
will go gangbusters.
Boy doesn't that sound familiar? I just looked
up the first piece I ever did on wireless back
in 1992 and they all promised that wireless data
would be big business, well not next year, but
real soon now. Yeah. Right.
There are differences of course. Nielsen puts
the blame squarely on really awful interfaces,
and I'm sure he's right. Simply attempting to
bring full Web pages to the wireless Web by doing
straight translations of HTML to Wireless Markup
Language either by hand or by Web server applications
is doomed to fail. I also, however, blame poor
bandwidth. When you max out at 16.8 Kbps throughput,
even plain old text can be a chore.
In theory, 3G wireless, another real soon now
wireless technology, will solve that problem
by making it possible to transmit data at broadband
speeds. But, even with that, even with intelligent
design, is WAP really going to go anywhere?
On handsets, the Internet phone, I don't think
it is. ISVs tell me that this open standard is
clogged with proprietary extensions that make
it a true pain to develop real world devices.
NTT DoCoMo is moving into the States with its
purchase of a chunk of AT&T wireless and its
own proprietary, but proven, I-Mode wireless
Let's cut to the chase, when people think wireless
Web they think they're going to be getting the
Web in its full glory. Wrong. What they get are
midget displays that are only good for displaying
short text bursts. As pagers have already shown,
that's great for stock quotes, the weather, headlines,
and sports scores, but it's not that exciting
and it's already been done.
Will the wireless Internet take off? I still
think some day, some day it has to. I hate hunting
for a phone jack on trips and I know millions
of other business people agree with me.
But, is it going to be on handsets powered
by WAP, no. The real battleground for the wireless
net will be on PDAs like the Palm and PocketPC,
devices with room for a decent display, not handsets.
And, WAP, thanks to poor deployments, poor designs,
standard breaking, and competition from I-Mode,
isn't going to be the technology that brings
the wireless web to your PDA.