Anyone for WAP?

Monday Nov 18th 2002 by Sam Huggill
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Anyone for WAP?

The wonderful world of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol in case you didn't know) appears to have descended upon us. The new Nokia 7110 and various other mobile phones now come with a WAP browser, which allows you to connect through your network providers gateway to access any WAP web site out on the big old net. But is WAP the future and how can we, as Visual Basic programmers leverage this new technology to provide greater flexibility in our applications?

Lets find out!

I myself own a Nokia 7110 and used to use its WAP capabilities (until I dropped my phone a few times and now it doesn't seem to work!).

The way a WAP "site" works is that the WML browser on your phone is directed to a set of WML "cards" that reside on a web server somewhere.

WML stands for Wireless Markup Language and is the language used when writing information for WAP enabled phones.

Anyway, you write WAP sites using WML (check out the W3C for more info). Now I suspect most people are reading this article and expecting to a find a nice tutorial on how to write WAP sites etc. Well, sorry to disappoint you all but that ain't gonna happen!

What I'm intending to do in this article is to discuss how far ahead WAP is, and whether we should start considering it as something that we should be developing our systems to use.

It appears that at the moment, WAP is pretty useless. Firstly, accessing data from the web via a 9.6Kbps modem isn't a very good start. Slow and sometimes unavailable access haunts the use of WAP (although that could just be the terrible service that resides to call itself BT Cellent -- apologies to any BT folk here!)

Apart from the speed and access problems, the game boy style screen display (only smaller) means that people writing WAP sites can't do a great deal, and people viewing WAP sites can see a great deal!

When I was "surfing the BT Cellent" as they like to put it I found many sites were very poorly designed. Navigation was difficult, as it appears you can put links on the site as well as under the menu -- some sites used these very inconsistently.

So until technologies like G3 start arriving into our phones and Nokia and the like come up with some better screens, we can leave WAP to rest.

As developers we still need to keep WAP in mind. It has the potential to be very powerful and accessible to millions of people. I'm sure a lot of people in your company would rather just carry around their mobile then a laptop.

I'm not suggesting that the mobile will replace the laptop, but it might make some of the information normally viewed on one viewable on a mobile, which would be great!

During this time where WAP is truly in its infancy, we need to keep up with what's going on. Think about your existing systems and how you could extend them to include WAP. Think what information might be easily viewable on a small screen that can't handle a great deal of bandwidth.

With this in mind we can start to think about building WML pages on the fly, outputting certain data or even letting the user select certain bits they want to see from their phone.

This could be really powerful but it's not quite here yet. Perhaps in 12 to 18 months time we'll start seeing the real power of WAP coming out. But that isn't very long away, so when you start building your next application think about whether your users might want to access the data from their phones.

What I'm still wondering is where does WAP fit into Microsoft's DNA? (Answers on a postcard please!)

Check out these links for more help:
http://www.w3.org/
http://www.nokia.com/

Enjoy!

Sam Huggill

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