Wap's all the fuss about?

To listen to all the hype you'd think Wap was the greatest invention since television. But Japan hasn't been fooled and there's a...

To listen to all the hype you'd think Wap was the greatest invention since television. But Japan hasn't been fooled and there's a long way to go before the system delivers

David Bicknell

E-business

You can hardly get away from it. Billboards scream about it as you're driving along. Old media like TV interrupt your favourite programmes with ads for it. And every other page of your favourite glossy magazine writes about it. Yes, it's Wap.

Never in the field of technology conflict can so much have been promised to so many - and so little been delivered.

Talk about a frenzy. The other week I read a piece that screamed that 30% of the Wap standard was open, leaving handset and browser developers producing technical incompatibilities.

And how old is this marketplace? A few months at best. OK, that might equate to a couple of Internet years or so, but let's ask a few questions about this "exploding" market.

  • What can you do with a Wap phone?

  • How many handsets provide real functions - not gimmicks?

  • What services actually exist?

  • Do you really believe you are suddenly going to jump into action when you get this e-mail from a retailer just yards away - thanks to the wonders of the Global Positioning System - offering you 10% off the latest CD, book or tickets?

    In Japan, Nokia introduced its first Wap-enabled phone more than six months ago, and by Nokia's standards, it has been a damp squib.

    A lack of hardware means handsets are in short supply, and in Japan, Wap has lots of catching up to do on Imode, a multimedia-enabled phone.

    Neither Wap's text nor its limited graphics replicate using a PC. It's a bit like watching TV in black and whiteÉ on a calculator.

    Simply providing the right services for Wap is also a challenge. Translating HTML code into wireless mark-up language (WML) is not straightforward either. Much of the existing content is static and not designed for mobiles. It has to be updated constantly to be relevant.

    At the moment there's little meaningful content creation because there are no clear business models emerging to encourage it.

    But still, despite all these drawbacks, the marketing frenzy continues. That's a bit like being sold how wonderful Windows 1.0 is. Remember the early versions of that? Would you like to use it now?

    If you're thinking of ditching your grey, boring mobile for a Wap-enabled one, or implementing a Wap strategy in your company, because hey, you've got to have one, count to 10 and then ask yourself, "Is this truly the real deal? Can I not afford to wait until this triumph of marketing over sense really shows some evidence of delivery?

    Until we get real appropriate content delivered over a mobile device, I'll continue to use my own acronym. It's Wap - What A Palaver.

    On a more constructive note, it seems that a Dutch incubator has found its way around the dearth of skilled talent plaguing many companies - train your own.

    Newconomy has taken 12 recruits from the Netherland's top blue-chip companies and will train them to work as managers for up to 25 Internet start-ups funded by the company.

    Most of the trainees in 'Newcadamy' receive a monthly salary of about half their previous pay, a car and a mobile phone. When they finish the course, they can either take a job with one of Newconomy's companies, or pay back the tuition fees.

    There's competition to get on the course, too. There were more than 150 applicants for the first course, which started in April.

    Good for the Dutch. Anyone feel like doing the same thing here?

    David Bicknell

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