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October 2003

WAP: The Technology That Wasn't
by Brian Dunning

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The Williams BMW cars had both made an extra pit stop for wet tires now that the rain was coming down, while series points leader Michael Schumacher, driving the Ferrari, was still out on his first set of dries. He had to pit soon: if he made the right tire choice, the race lead would be his, and a record sixth championship assured.

"Quick, Dan," I said, "get on your Internet phone and see what the weather's going to do."

Dan fiddled and fussed for a few minutes, occasionally grunting or grimacing, trying to type URLs on a one-inch screen, trying to scroll past ads and banners and irrelevant content through a desperately slow connection. We waited, and waited...the Ferrari made two pit stops and threw away a golden opportunity...and by the time Dan finally gave up and flipped his phone closed, nobody cared what the weather was going to do anymore. The Ferrari strategists were probably throwing their own WAP phones into the trash at that same moment.

"You know what WAP stands for?" asks Marc Andreesen, Netscape pioneer and sage of the Internet. "It's the sound a WAP cell phone makes when you throw it in the wastebasket."

Whether they go under the guise of WAP (wireless access protocol), i-mode (Japan's version), or XHTML-Basic (one of those Microsoft standards that nobody ever heard of), internet enabled cell phones just never did catch on. According to Jupiter Research, fewer than two percent of people who own WAP phones have ever tried accessing the Internet with them.

So why did such a cool, promising technology die?

It never really lived to begin with. Maybe it's because nobody ever did come out with a half-usable browser for cell phones. Maybe it's because no web sites ever found a way to boil their sites' content down to such a tiny size. Maybe it's because the content people look to the Internet for can't be decently presented on a one-inch screen. Or maybe it's because that's not what cell phones are for. I don't barbecue hamburgers on my car's grill; why would I surf the Internet on my phone when I have a perfectly good computer on hand that does it a million times better?

Form factor. If something clearly isn't suited for a purpose, as demonstrated by its obvious physical dimensions, you're not going to convince people that it is. Nobody will turn a Mini Cooper S into a city bus no matter how good you tell them it will be.

How about web browsers in cars? Sure, just like you might build a piano into the dash.

Last year, I was engaged to edit a new column by a company that was bringing out two new wireless sites. I was all set to have people the world over reading my stuff on their cell phones. I expected to stroll through airports and shopping malls and see everybody reading my column. After six months I asked what the deal was: where were the sites? "Well, we're working on it, hasn't come together yet..." And then, a month or two later, a sad shake of the head told me that the sites were dead. Nobody was buying ad space on wireless sites because there is no traffic.

Will the situation improve? Doubtful, since the trend in cell phones is to go even smaller. Nobody wants to carry around a brick.

Nevertheless, it's still hard to buy a cell phone these days that lacks Internet capability. Don't give up hope, but also don't spend too much time trying to learn WML (Wireless Markup Language) or CHTML (Compact HTML). Just because 25 college students can fit into a phone booth, doesn't mean that's what next year's dormitories will look like.

Browse Mode
Jan 10 Solving Performance Emergencies with FileMaker Server
Aug 06 Top Ten Sessions Cut from the 2006 FileMaker Developer Conference
Jul 06 Who's Driving This Thing, Anyway? Or, How Marketing and Engineering Buried the Hatchet (Warning: Contains a Curse Word)
Nov 05 Shingle Grandiloquence
Oct 05 In Celebration of Geek Magnetism
Aug 05 A Rogues' Gallery of Devcon Attendees
Mar 05 Lies, Damned Lies, and Project Specifications
Feb 05 Pick the Right Tool for the Job
Oct 04 Home Media Server Requirements
Jul 04 Leveraging Your FileMaker Lingo
Apr 04 Technical Support Redux
Mar 04 Enforce Seats in FileMaker 7/8/9 Commercial Solutions
Feb 04 Reinventing the Wheel
Oct 03 WAP: The Technology That Wasn't
Aug 03 Brian Dunning's California Governor Election Platform
Jul 03 Sex and the Single Software Developer
May 03 XSLT: Creeping Out of the Closet?
Feb 03 A Consultant's Guide to Traveling
Nov 02 Adventures of Bat Magnum, FileMaker Consultant
Sep 02 FileMaker at Area 51
Aug 02 FileMaker Terminology
Feb 02 Computer Shunts
Dec 01 Aquabase Alpha & the Consultant's Challenge
Aug 01 It IS the Size That Counts
Jun 01 On the Trail of Sasquatch
May 01 Spring Cleaning
Feb 01 FileMaker Mobile Survivor Challenge
Jan 01 Letter from Nürburg
Dec 00 Performance Anxiety
Nov 00 Objection, Your Honor
Oct 00 Leveraging Convergence: Jargon for the 21st Century
Sep 00 Top Ten Things to Do at Devcon
Aug 00 Aesop's FileMaker Fables
Jul 00 Ten Commandments of FileMaker Pro
Jun 00 Explats Cross Examined
May 00 iMac, Therefore iServe
Mar 00 Valley of the Dollars
Jan 00 Are You Up for a Review?
Nov 99 Tales from the Script
Sep 99 Tech Support Revisited
Jul 99 Moderns vs. Classicals
Mar 99 Nashoba, We Hardly Knew Ye