Rewiring the world for handhelds: Page 3

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Internet smart handheld devices (U.S. and worldwide)
Source: International Data Corp., 2000

North American mobile data market
Source: Dataquest, Dec. 1999
"We're just at the beginning, so at this point, most of the applications are written by systems integrators," notes Monica Hamilton, director of Nokia's global strategic partnership program in Irving, Texas. But as the technology evolves, Hamilton predicts that more packaged applications for the wireless Web will be available.

Although developing your own applications certainly presents a challenge, there are plenty of tools available to help with the task. Using the software developer's kit available from the WAP Forum, for example, developers with a working knowledge of the World Wide Web could probably write at least a rudimentary application. "There are a lot of tools available to generate Web pages today, and we will see the same thing happening with WAP," Hamilton predicts.

But for more complicated development involving enterprise data critical to decision-making and retrieving data at the back end, even Hamilton admits that turning to outside help is probably the answer. In fact, because of the numerous challenges companies face when trying to rearchitect their applications for the wireless Web, many have chosen to outsource the application development and ongoing management, or at least partner with vendors that can provide significant assistance to their own internal IT staffs.

Along with a lack of expertise in wireless application development, an organization's internal IT staff isn't likely to be available 24x7 to assist traveling employees or customers. Once issues of cost--both actual cost and the cost of adding additional IT staff--are considered, many companies opt for outsourcing.

The other handheld wireless Web device

For the next 18 months or so, Internet-enabled telephones will be the most popular way to provide wireless access to the Web, Aberdeen's Quinn predicts. But over time, PDAs such as Palm Inc.'s PalmPilot, running the PalmOS, and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Jornada and Casio's Casiopeia, both running Microsoft's PocketPC, also will increase in popularity as delivery mechanisms for wireless Web applications.

Delivering the same applications on a PDA platform that are available on a wireless telephone platform is the next frontier for both Landstar System and Alltel Information Services. The goal for both of these companies is to make services available on whatever platform their users prefer. "It's all about flexibility and user preference," Alltel's Norcross says. "All of this technology is so new that you just can't afford to place your bet on just one device type." Although offering banking services on PDAs will require some additional work because the screens are different, Norcross says it's worth the extra effort.

The trend toward making Web accessibility available on both platforms is already in full force, with most vendors touting wireless Web applications addressing both platforms. ThatWeb.com's recently launched Uni.WapMail, an e-mail retrieval solution for wireless devices, works with both WAP-enabled phones and PDAs. The same is true for Gentia Software's recently announced Wireless Scorecard, which allows executives to track strategic developments within their companies while on the go.

Wireless hurdles
Barriers to widespread use of wireless Web-based applications:
  • form factor

  • screen size

  • bandwidth

  • lack of off-the-shelf applications

  • ability of local telcos to WAP-enable their systems
There may even come a point, experts say, when the device of choice will be a hybrid of both technologies--something akin to Nokia's 9110 device available in Europe today, but with more capabilities. In fact, both Neopoint Inc. and Handspring Inc. currently have hybrid devices on the market, as does the team of Qualcomm Inc. and Kyocera Corp., which makes the pdQ smart phone.

During the next few years, Quinn predicts that other vendors will produce similar hybrid devices. The feedback these vendors receive will help hone the look and functionality of these devices, leading to improved form factors and user interfaces.

But these devices won't completely replace the current crop of PDAs and WAP-enabled phones. Instead, they will simply add another choice. The most likely candidates to use these hybrid devices, Quinn believes, are those who currently use both a digital cellular phone and a PDA on a daily basis. //

Karen D. Schwartz is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. She is based in the Washington, D.C. area and can be reached at karen.schwartz@bigfoot.com.



The next wireless frontier

For many, WAP (wireless application protocol) is synonymous with the wireless Web. But that's not entirely true. For one thing, the WAP protocol, which functions as a browser for a cellular telephone, only works with phones specifically enabled for the protocol. Other tools that can access the Web wirelessly, such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and notebook computers, have no need for the WAP protocol at all--at least today. The WAP Forum, a group of about 300 technology companies, envisions WAP as a standard that will provide Internet and advanced telephony services to pagers, PDAs, and other wireless terminals, as well as to digital phones.

Using a WAP-enabled handset from a company like LM Ericsson, Motorola Inc., or Nokia Corp. is similar to having Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator accessible through your telephone. The WAP protocol receives information from the Internet or an intranet and translates the data into a format users can understand by interfacing with a WAP server manufactured by companies such as Nokia and Infinite Technologies Inc. The WAP server connects to Web servers containing the content and applications being accessed.

WAP-enabled telephones allow users access to a variety of global wireless services, including the ability to transfer funds and stocks, make flight reservations, and check the weather, news, and sports scores. Today, the data users receive through WAP-enabled phones is only text-based.

The one factor holding back full-fledged use of WAP is its spotty availability in the United States, due to some ambiguity in the marketplace about whether WAP is truly the future of wireless Internet access. An unexpected shortage of WAP-enabled devices also is a factor. But as more WAP-enabled handsets become available in configurations that are more Internet-friendly and technology advances to allow for even greater speeds, these limitations should all but disappear, experts say. In fact, International Data Corp. (IDC) of Framingham, Mass., predicts that beginning in January 2001, all digital telephones shipped by manufacturers will be WAP-enabled.

In addition to full-scale availability in the United States, some industry analysts and would-be users are still concerned about the protocol's security, despite claims from companies like Nokia that the authentication and encryption mechanisms are rock solid. "There is still a disconnect between when you are transmitting over the Internet and digital cellular, and when you actually hit the WAP server. It's still not entirely secure from end to end," says Kelly Quinn, senior analyst for carrier enterprise communications at Aberdeen Group of Boston.

But once those security issues are put to rest in the next year or two--and they will be, if the powerful WAP Forum has anything to say about it--WAP will find a permanent place in the wireless world.

Says Quinn, "WAP is a fact of life at this point, whether in its current incarnation or in a future one." --K.D.S.


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