WOZA (Johannesburg)

14 July 2000

South Africa: Bursting The WAP Bubble


Johannesburg — If you've been to the cinema lately, you've probably seen the latest cellphone company advert illustrating the virtues of WAP technology. It goes something like this: there you are in the middle of the jungle having a rest when a very poisonous-looking snake crawls up your pants. Keep calm, you have your WAP-enabled cellphone with you.

So you do a quick internet search on your phone, which reveals that although the snake is non-venomous - whew! - it's a constrictor . . .

In reality, the snake is the least of your problems!

Firstly, in the middle of said jungle your cellphone most probably cannot pick up a signal. The next obstacle our intrepid, but WAP-savvy, jungle explorer is likely to encounter is that the site he/she is trying to access is not available. Not because the site is down, but because the unlucky jungle explorer has failed to choose a site which has entered into a deal with his/her specific service provider.

This alone is enough to work up a sweat, but remember, the snake is still getting cosy in your nether regions! By a stroke of adrenaline- fuelled genius you pick a site that does have a relationship with your service provider and, hey presto! all the information is at your fingertips.

Time for one of those reality checks again.

Slow bandwidth means your information is still traversing cyberspace 10 minutes later. And your cellphone screen is so small that, should the site actually load, you'll continually need to scroll up, down and to the side to read anything meaningful.

Suffering from intense frustration, not to mention muscle cramps from maintaining the same position for so long, your fingers are getting a bit shaky. It is not just the snake that's bothering you now, but the R2.50 or so per minute cost of being online via your cellphone!

All this means that attempting to manipulate the small keypad is insurmountable. Remember the snake.

So do you really want a WAP phone? Many people are beginning to realise that WAP is not all that it was hyped to be.

Jakob Nielsen, dubbed "the reigning guru of web usability" by Fortune magazine, claims that WAP has "miserable usability" because of all the problems encountered above by our jungle WAP user.

To illustrate his point, he says that at the recent NetMedia2000 conference in London, many speakers proclaimed WAP to be "a temporary aberration that delivers substandard services".

Nielsen advises companies to "skip the current generation of WAP". He addresses their concern over missing the mobile internet boat by adding that mobile internet will "be big, but in a different form than current systems".

Nielsen predicts that the next-generation systems will be launched in 2001 or 2002, and advises companies to perform extensive research before becoming "caught up in launching live services".

And what does this mean for our jungle explorer? Forget using your WAP phone. Try to remember what you were taught at scouts/guides/veldschool, or just hope that the snake decides to leave your trousers of its own accord!

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