BOSTON (06/01/2000) - The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) was designed to make it easier to build applications for handheld phones and other devices, but that doesn't mean building them is easy, developers say.
There are so many kinds of wireless handheld devices and the network is so complex that testing is even more important with WAP applications than with other kinds, they say.
That's why application development managers at three companies building WAP applications for banking and other uses said they welcome a new testing lab and the online community of AnywhereYouGo.com, which is based in London with U.S. offices in Dallas.
The site boasts 7,500 developers globally who can use free online testing tools and compare notes with one another. On May 10, the site also announced a laboratory in London for developers to test applications on up to 27 WAP phone models. A low-level test of an application could take about a week and costs $750, while a more sophisticated test could last three weeks and cost $7,500, AnywhereYouGo.com officials said.
"As a WAP developer, you do have to seriously test products across the phones out there. And as the number of phones grows, there will be a huge load on developing companies for running tests," said Damian Bown, CEO at Kizoom Ltd. in London, which is releasing a WAP application to bring wireless users instant access to transportation schedules and fees based on their itinerary and location.
"AnywhereYouGo is really going to help with changes in the phone product," Bown said.
"With WAP, we're very much like the world was in 1994 with the World Wide Web," said Michael Fuchs, webmaster at e-commerce server vendor Netfish Technologies Inc. in Santa Clara, California. "There's a balkanization of devices that need access."
Tim Youngblood, research director at Magnet Communications Inc. in Atlanta, said AnywhereYouGo.com is the only destination he has found that puts together testing tools with a communications hub for developers to share information.
His company is building wireless banking applications for several large banks and plans to use the laboratory later this year, he said.
All three companies have been testing applications in-house, but they said the WAP world is quickly going to grow too complex for them to keep track of new developments.
Typically, errors in writing WAP applications occur in adapting the application for a particular device. And when an error occurs, it can shut out a user from a site, eliminating the application's efficiency.
AnywhereYouGo.com recently conducted a survey of 50 WAP-enabled Web sites and found 28% of them had errors, company officials said.
"Speed is the main reason to do thorough testing because you need to have speed to bring products to market," Bown said. "The last thing you want is a user turning on a WAP phone and going to a service and finding it doesn't work."
The new lab validates applications using actual WAP handsets and gateways, integrated with AnywhereYouGo.com's proprietary testing software. Officials said the service will ensure that WAP sites are compliant with industry standards and compatible with unique devices.
For example, a company with a WAP application might find that certain phones don't support bold or italic typeface, which could make a company logo impossible to use. Bown said his company's applications will identify the kind of phone being used and let the application respond to specific functions.
"Even though we test in-house, we know that we're simply not able to keep with the growing number of devices and gateways," Bown said.
"We're in the early stages of WAP, so it's not a bad idea for developers to compare notes and get a stamp of approval" from a company such as AnywhereYouGo.com, said Alan Reiter, an analyst at Wireless Internet and Mobile Computing in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
WAP is in its infancy in the U.S., analysts said, with much greater deployment in Europe. Framingham, Massachusetts-based International Data Corp. predicts that by year's end there should be about 99 million WAP-enabled Internet subscribers worldwide. That number is expected to surpass 744 million in 2002 and hit 1.3 billion in 2004.