WAP 2.0 calls developers to action

The launch of a new version of WAP (wireless application protocol) has sparked debate among industry players and analysts as to whether the platform will find wider adoption than its previous release.

WAP 2.0, released Wednesday, is the result of collaboration between the WAP Forum, the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) and W3C (World Wide Web Consortium). A more universal mark-up language, improved security protocols and architecture incorporating cascading style sheets are what separate 2.0 from 1.0, according to the WAP Forum.

The platform’s success “depends on the rollout of 2.5G,” said Frank Maw, president of Mississauga, Ont.-based Motorola Canada Ltd. “You really have to have packet-switched infrastructure in place to make WAP an attractive Internet access format.” Motorola is one of the three cell phone manufacturers, along with Nokia and Ericsson, supporting the 2.0 release.

Maw said it will be up to developers and carriers to support applications to make WAP more attractive to users. “It’s more the end content and applications that really drive (the market). I think the next big driver is going to be short messaging service (SMS).”

Motorola will announce products for Rogers-AT&T Wireless’ and Microcell’s general packet radio service (GPRS) networks this fall, according to Maw.

But WAP-enabled phones will be forced to rely on services and applications in order to succeed, said analyst Michael Sone of Sone Associates Inc. in Toronto. ” It’s a bit like having a fast car on a dirt track. If you don’t have a highway, you can’t drive the thing,” he said.

A significant evolution in the release of 2.0 is the adoption of XHTML (a combination of XML and HTML) as a developer language. “It’s very similar to the HTML that all the Web developers are developing applications with. Definitely that’s going to make the developer’s life a lot easier,” said Jay Subramaniam, a software developer with Wysdom Inc. in Richmond Hill, Ont. The improvement should allow developers to create more media-rich applications, he added.

“(WAP 2.0) completes the process of reconciling WAP to Internet standards as developed by the W3C,” said John Mennel, vice-president of platform products for 724 Solutions Inc., a member of WAP Forum. “That’s good for developers, just because it means that the mark-up languages, the transport layer, the whole model becomes much more common between the Internet and wireless.”

In its previous incarnation, first released in 1997, WAP supported a transport layer and mark-up language foreign to most developers, meaning they had to learn an entirely new set of programming skills in order to create applications on the platform. The adoption of common standards will provide a wider pool of potential developers, according to Mennel, thereby allowing more and better applications to be delivered into the hands of consumers. Toronto-based 724 is already developing WAP 2.0 applications for banking, brokerage and commerce.

Provided there are compelling applications available, cell phone manufacturers must ensure that interfaces are designed to take advantage of them, said Sone. But mobile applications are a tough sell in North America, where the desktop PC has already made an indelible mark on the home market, he said.

” I think perhaps one of the big problems in North America generally, and Canada in particular, is we’re one of the highest users and owners of personal computers in the world. If you can do all this stuff from a desk – and we’re doing it better and better because there’s more and more broadband – why do I really want a wireless phone?”

Relatively rudimentary applications like checking stock quotes, weather reports, messages and bank balances may resonate with users, but they may not bother with multimedia in a cell phone form factor, he said.

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