Wap: a rocky road lies ahead



You cannot read a newspaper anywhere in the world right now that does not feature a piece at some point in the week on "the Wap phenomenon" and how we will all...



You cannot read a newspaper anywhere in the world right now that does not feature a piece at some point in the week on "the Wap phenomenon" and how we will all be surfing the Web using our phones a few months from now.

And this is just a precursor to a brave new future where wireless technology is everywhere. However, right now, I feel like the child in the crowd watching the Emperor go by - and he's not wearing any clothes!

You see, in Viant labs around the world we have assembled a range of prototype, showcase Wap applications and although they are very cool for the typical geek. to the average business user they are plodding, unreliable and hard to read.

If you've read Michael Lewis's, The New New Thing - a "must read" in this business - then Wap is a little like the video-on-demand bandwagon of the early 90s.

The idea was a good one, a lot of people spent a lot of money trying to make it work, but no one made any money and none of it ended up in the market in its original form.

On the wireless horizon are better screens, better interfaces, new device concepts, higher bandwidth with GPRS and then UMTS. But in these scenarios a few "minor" details are seemingly being omitted, such as the new handsets that will be required for each successive generation of technology.

In fact, lots of new hardware and software throughout the whole value chain will be required. The bottom line? Anyone trying to build viable applications on these platforms is building in an environment where every major layer is going to change dramatically in rapid succession.

So here you are - the head of your company's new big Wap project - thinking, "I can get it out the door OK, but in 12 months everyone is going to be screaming at me about having to completely re-implement for the next generation of technology." So, what do you do?

The key to success is not to try and predict which technology will win - you and everyone else will be wrong. Instead, take object-oriented design lessons to heart and build the platforms in a highly modular, structured and interchangeable fashion.

Implement clean API's everywhere, objects for everything (in Java where possible), interfaces separated from logic etc, and be prepared to swap out whole chunks of the architecture as new, better, stuff comes along.

And enjoy the ride - when we are done (or at least further along) it really is going to be a whole new world.

Robbie Vann-Adibé is co-founder Viant Inc

This was last published in April 2000

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