A debate has started on Vodafone’s BetaVine. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that Vodafone provided me with exclusive rights to seed interest in the wider industry to help launch the Portal, after providing advice prior to its launch. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find the time to continue commentating about it. Anyway, it’s doing exactly what I had hoped. It’s stimulating and supporting conversation within the industry. In this instance, it’s a heated debate which is likely to raise more awareness for the Portal if nothing else.
Luca Passani is the culprit (I mean that in the nicest possible way) responsible for starting the debate. If there’s one thing he’s good at, it’s starting a debate. Unfortunately he doesn’t know how to agree to disagree, or even respect the fact that he can sometimes be wrong.
My intention here is not to discuss the debate itself but instead, get people to use the right terminology. Ok, so my post about the correct spelling of Web site was a bit of a joke, but knowing the difference between WAP and the mobile Web is not, as it impacts end users for the worse.
It was a TechCrunch post that inspired me to write this note. I was about to post a comment but quickly realised that my message is important (and long) enough to warrant it’s own post. I’ve written about this previously where Luca has commented along with Google, Microsoft, .mobi, Opera and others. See here and here.
In my opinion, Luca has absolutely no interest in seeing the Web as we know it on the desktop, come to mobile phones. He is in favour of WAP and is an expert on the subject. WAP is not the mobile Web though, they are two entirely different technologies and he doesn’t have an appreciation for Web trends.
- WAP = sites built only for mobile phones
- Web = sites which should work on any device
WAP browsers and Web browsers look the same but what they display is completely different. One generates revenue for Operators and Content Providers and the other provides end users the ability to search and browse the Web. That’s why most end users don’t know the difference between a WAP site and a Web site. However, it’s not good enough to assume that they don’t care. It’s also wrong to assume they don’t want a choice.
In more detail
WAP sites are sites which have been built specifically to work on mobile phones. They do not work on desktop computers. This means if you come across a WAP site on your phone and wish to email the URL to a friend so they can see it at home, they can’t unless they’re using a mobile.
I used to own an LG Chocolate phone to demonstrate this point when giving presentations at conferences. I’d ask someone for the URL of their company Web site and then explain that it was impossible for me to view it on my new cool phone because it didn’t have a Web browser capable of displaying it.
Not all mobiles have browsers capable of displaying Web sites. Some phones come with a Web browser but it’s sometimes removed or hidden down the menu system by the Operator (not the manufacturer). Operators have always been extremely keen to keep it this way as they make money from WAP through revenue share deals with content providers.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Content Providers to which Luca and TechCrunch refer, are not likely to want users to access the Web (as invented by Tim Berners-Lee and harmonized by the W3C), as you do on a desktop computer. Otherwise they’ll stop making money through their commercial agreements with Operators. This means end users get whatever WAP sites Operators believe will generate the most revenue. This is not in the best interest of end users today.
It made sense to only offer WAP sites when mobiles were unable to display Web sites. It also makes sense to continue building WAP sites while mobile devices continue to improve, standards are adopted, prices come down, speeds improve and developers build Web sites so they work better on mobile devices.
In my opinion, we’re almost there. You only have to look at the recent launch of the iPhone to see what’s possible. It won’t be long before this capability is more widespread across more devices and the above points are addressed. As I keep saying, I’ve heard all the same arguments whilst at AOL in the mid 90′s. People use to say that online marketing would never take off because the Web was too slow, yada yada yada. The same type of people used to say that TV would never take off because it was so much smaller than the cinema screen.
End users do care about the difference between the two, or at least they would if told they were restricted to what the Operator wants them to see. Mobile stake holders make too many assumptions about what users want. That’s why the industry is so crap at getting it right.
So, can you see the difference between the two? If you had a mobile which stopped you from accessing the Web, would you care? Would you be happy to only view the WAP sites that your Operator forces upon you?
Please stop referring to WAP as mobile Web, it’s not. Just call it WAP.
From a customer point of view, you buy a mobile so you can surf the Web as you do from your desktop computer. Would you be happy to learn that you’re only able to use iMode, Live or other WAP sites?