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A WAP Primer

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Warning: Mobile Applications Are Different

A note of caution—the wireless Web will not replace desktop Web access! Mobile users have different needs than their desk-bound counterparts. The mobile user requires the ability to surf the Web, but messaging and personalized information channels take on much greater significance in the mobile world. Although it is not possible to neatly describe the entire realm of mobile Internet applications, let's take a stab at breaking these applications into four categories: Communications and Personal Information Management (PIM), Internet, Enterprise, and Telemetry applications.

Communications and PIM

Communications applications such as messaging, email, and notification, currently form the nucleus of wireless data applications. These are often delivered as value-added services by mobile providers. Mobile providers also use PIM applications, such as scheduling and calendar services, to differentiate their offerings. Note that although text-based communications applications are becoming increasingly important, it should not be assumed that they will supercede voice-based communications; one of the major user-interface challenges currently facing mobile developers is integration of voice and text interfaces to provide a seamless communication experience.

Internet

Internet applications are directed at a broad "consumer" audience and hence receive the majority of media attention. Mobile commerce ("m-commerce") services—including ticketing, banking, and other purchases—are currently the focus of much attention. Financial institutions are at the forefront of m-commerce as a result of the huge cost-savings that can be realized over traditional service delivery. Portal services (including news, weather, and stock updates) are available within a new class of Internet portal: the mobile portal. Due to the limited display and entry capabilities of mobile devices, portal connections are extremely important in the wireless world. It is no small task to enter a URL on the 3 by 4 keypad found on most cellphones—hence, the importance of portals as a configurable and focused entry point onto the mobile net.

Enterprise

Enterprise-specific mobile services are often overlooked, but are becoming increasingly critical to a business's success. Because up to forty percent of the workforce spends a significant amount of their workday away from their desks, the ability to extend the office into the field is of enormous benefit. Mobile access is already a reality in areas such as sales, transportation, and field service, where the benefits of automation are crystal clear. Mobile enterprise connectivity will become popular for other mobile professionals as businesses begin to understand the advantages of the virtual office.

Telemetry

Telemetry applications use mobile communications to send messages from either one embedded device to another or to a central server. Remote installations that require monitoring (such as storage tanks, pipelines, and outdoor vending machines) can send alerts without requiring costly installation of land-based telephone lines. The number of mobile users in the world tops out at 6 billion or so, but think of all the machines we deal with on a day-to-day basis that could also become mobile Internet subscribers!

New Possibilities

In addition to these categories, the wireless Web enables entirely new classes of applications. Location-aware services take advantage of the user's mobility to offer applications that are tailored to the user's current position. Location information can be provided by the user in the form of a postal code or address, or the information may be automatically available from the client device via Global Positioning System (GPS) or cellular network triangulation. Add push technology and time-aware services to this mix, and we turn the traditional Web upside down. Now applications can initiate a dialogue with the mobile user, making possible highly personalized location and time-specific services. If you think this raises issues of privacy and confidentiality, you're right! Subscription models and explicit user permission will be the norm for these classes of applications.

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