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THOUGHT: Will i-Mode do it better than WAP or where are the differences?
Posted by Arne Hess - on Tuesday, 23.04.02 - 16:48:00 CET under 09 - Thoughts - Viewed 6622x
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One of the hypes I saw on CeBIT was for sure the i-Mode presentation from E-Plus. Yes, I saw many people scrolling on the mobile phones, surfing the wireless web and had fun. So will i-Mode hold the promise, WAP wasn't able to hold?
Hey, just wait a minute... What is i-Mode and its key success factors (at least in Japan but maybe also in Germany/Europe) and why I still believe in WAP.

First of all i-Mode is color and that's the nice and most important part of it. i-Mode can display animated GIFs, also not bad. I-Mode is able to provides tones, that's great. WAP was (until the launch of the Ericsson T68) at least on mobile phone displayed on a green/black display, that's boring. WAP was able to format texts including tables but most handset vendors didn't supported it. WAP was slow and inconvenient as it was launched to late/early (to late because SMS as the bearer services might be the better decision than CSD and GPRS wasn't available. CSD was the worst decision!).WAP was secure but who the hell needs WTLS Class 1 - 3 while a standard SSL connectivity would be enough for the regular consumer services? WAP was completely wrong defined by the WAP Forum and didn't found its role at the operators.

Where was the faults and not and who is responsible for the faults?

Yes, i-Mode looks
more fancy than
traditional WAP
on a black/green
And that's how
WAP looks on
a colored mobile
phone like the
Ericsson T68

Fault #1: WAP wasn't designed for fun with colored screens. One of the most successful services of i-Mode is fun and for fun you need colors. But the GSM handset vendors wasn't able to deliver color screen handsets until last winter (see also my complains about this from CeBIT last year at the Washington Post), while i-Mode is working for years now with colored screens.
Fault #2: The WAP Forum, a mix of hundreds of companies, didn't focus in its roadmap on how to develop a mobile Internet market. The WAP Forum (where I joined two meetings in the past) was from techies for techies. But the point is that the marketing wasn't deeply enough involved. To develop a mobile Internet market you have to come from the value, fun and convenient side. What the WAP Forum delivered was a kind of "how to port SIM Application Toolkit to a connection oriented connectivity". This was the complete wrong approach as we know today! Companies like the SIM card vendors tried to save their going revenue by introducing PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) models which nobody wants (at least today). In the WAP Forum they was talking about mobile payment, mobile banking and so on. Why not to try it with such smart services like weather, news and other daily helpful contents delivered in color with animated graphics? No, they tried to fly before they was able to walk!
Not a Fault #1: Was the markup language. Come on guys, I can not hear all the stuff about chtml vs. wml anymore. What are we talking about? It's a markup language only and at least for the CMS (Content Management System) it doesn't matter which markup language the pages are. Yes, wml doesn't support all required tags but that's a question of the specification not of the markup language by itself.
Not a Fault #2: Was the non existing business models. WAP is a technology and maybe a brand name but some things have to be done by the operators and content providers. One of the core competences of every company should be the business case. If a company doesn't find one, it's maybe the wrong product or the wrong business. WAP as a technology can not be responsible for the missing business cases of a whole industry!

So why doesn't WAP hyped like i-Mode in Japan?

This colored
screenshot is
one year old
EzWAP was
the first color
WAP browser
on the market.
Compared to a
color WAP
 browser on a
Pocket PC, i-mode

It's because the usage of WAP was sexless! If you see WAP as the small information on the run (like SMS based info services) it's okay; if you see WAP as a kind of mobile entertainment, in it's today's available specifications it can not hold what Marketing was talking about before. WAP needs colors, WAP needs hancy fancy graphics, than it could become a success; for sure it will still be a success! But until companies like Nokia doesn't understand this, WAP will still not be successful. That's what Sony Ericsson realized now and EZOS with it's Pocket PC EzWAP browser long time ago. Both products supports colors and now it's funny to use WAP. Now, WAP looks more or less like i-Mode and the webmasters can work with clickable buttons. But it took to long in our fast living mobile Internet world to realize this. But both solutions (the color support in the EzWAP browser and the color support in the Ericsson T68) are still proprietary.

But anyhow, the whole Internet history is proprietary. Remember when companies like Macromedia introduced Flash or companies like Real introduced its RealPlayer. We was talking about industry standards and visions to create a better Internet. The Internet before the Web was as boring as WAP 1.2 is today. When I started with the Internet in 1993 there was no Web browser available and I used to use Telnet, Gopher and other text based services. The success came with the Web and more and more by including images and sounds! If WAP will deliver this to the customer experience, the user will use WAP for sure

Can WAP compete again the real Internet on PDAs like the Pocket PC?
Yes, I'm sure it can. For me, WAP is a synonym for the mobile Internet on small screens and as good the Wireless Pocket PCs are today and will become in future - it's a question of the size. There are enough situations in the night time or vacations where I'm on the move without my Pocket PC - but my mobile phone is with me - all the time. However, in that cases I want to access the Internet, doesn't matter if I'm looking for information or I'm surfing just for fun; I access the Internet from my mobile phone.
If I'm taking a look now how much I used WAP in the past on my boring green/black Nokia phones and how often I access WAP with my color Ericsson T68 now my usage doubled by a minimum, just because WAP on a colored mobile phone with colored contents makes more fun.

Will WAP stands against i-Mode?
Yes, it will, if the mobile phone vendors starts building rich media mobile phones with a minimum of 256 colors screens. If the content provider becomes a reason now to deliver rich media colored content, it will stay alive. I bet! If the industry still think WAP will be the mobile shopping mall only, WAP will loose!

And what's about the business models?
As I said before, WAP can not includes a business model as it is a wireless technology only. If the operators starts with revenue sharing now, the content providers, which fills at least any technology, will come back to WAP. When I introduced the click-based billing at O2 Germany (at that time VIAG Interkom) this was the idea. Unfortunately it took time to implement everything but today O2 has everything in place to re-launch a WAP service which includes revenue sharing.

Final Conclusion

WAP needs some innovations but if these are introduced, it has not fear for i-mode. Both are based on its own markup languages but one comes more from the fun and convenient side, the other came from the technology side. It's a question of services, GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces incl. colored screens) and business models. The point is that the services have to be developed by the network operators, the GUI by the handset manufactures and the business models by the content providers. And this 3 parties have to play the game together - otherwise WAP will fails while i-mode is built from one hand: NTT DoCoMo!

Cheers ~ Arne


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