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FEATURE
WAP Is Dead Long Live XML !
Feature

By: Kris Buytaert

Wireless Application Protocol-that dominant buzzword for the last six months-has ended up as nothing but a gadget for people with too much money. Yes, WAP-billed as an emerging standard for displaying and delivering wireless information on phones, pagers, and PDAs-is Dead. As we've known it.


WAP was designed for mobile phones as an interface to the Web. Telecom marketeers told the masses about the "Internet on your mobile phone." Nothing could be less true. WAP is not Internet access. Imagine the Web before Mosaic. Then imagine three years before that. Now you're talking WAP. None of the applications to which you're accustomed is available. You get a small subset of search engines. You get a limited version of your banking application, if you get one at all. And WAP devices do not tend to be very stable.

So why are people buying WAP phones? Time was when WAP first stood for "Where Are the Phones?" Now that people are really discouraged, the question is, where are the apps? The trouble lies in that there is no killer application for WAP. People carry these phones around without actually using any of their extra functions. Statistics from different operators show that about 1% of mobile users use WAP services. Moreover, customers are not satisfied with the text-based services they do get.

Does WAP have a future? WAP will continue to exist, but it won't be using wml or wmlscript or wlts/wsp any longer. Hopefully, WAP will live up to its true name as a protocol for wireless applications, not as a protocol for going on the Internet with your mobile. Many embedded appliances will want wireless access to content on the Internet but they won't be doing it using a human client, pointing and clicking everywhere.

Looking at this kind of WAP future, what needs to be enhanced? In facing the porting of millions of existing online applications to a new WAP platform, lots of folks mistakenly rewrote their code and adapted it so that their application would produce wml as well as html. That's where they went wrong. When they want to go to WAP 2.0, they have to add a third layer to present content to their users as XHTML, whereas others chose to migrate their applications in such a way that the content was generated in XML. An appropriate style sheet was added; the client got the data in a markup language that it can understand.

With the introduction of IP v6, the full use of TCP/IP in embedded wireless devices will grow. So will a variety of clients, opening the way for a new arena. As it stands now, there are more people with mobile phones than people with Internet access. Therefore, if people really start to use these applications embedded in a car or any other way, then there's a huge market ahead for applications/appliances.

Enter Open Source, where the interest is in how Open Source development can help shave costs and speed time to market, furthering the goals of management and customers: shorter cycles, higher availability, less maintenance. (Useful links: http://jakarta.apache.org; http://xml.apache.org/xalan; http://xml.apache.org/cocoon As for providing content to whatever client pops up in the future, your business logic will stay the same whether you have to display the price of a book on a PDA or on a phone. It's just that the way of displaying it, thus encapsulating the content in the markup language, will differ.

Since XML is good in describing what is between the tags, it's ideal for this task. Many tools are available to do the job, all of which are Open Source, and most within the Apache Project.

Show me the Code!

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For those hours you're at work, slaving away for the "good of the company", you can use the digital answering machine to catch calls from people you didn't want to talk to anyway. When you're at home, use the 900 MHz cordless phone to catch a call from your boss, who you didn't want to talk to anyway. What could be better?
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