Position paper on
WAP Application Usability in GSM Markets

Paul Smethers, Inc.
Corporate Headquarters
800 Chesapeake Driver
Redwood City CA 94063 USA
+1 650 562 0200 (Tel)
+1 650 817 1499 (Fax)


WAP is the "Wireless Application Protocol" used to provide Internet content to wireless devices like cell phones and PDA's (Personal Digital Assistants). It operates by taking developer content written in WML (Wireless Markup Language) over HTTP through the Internet to a gateway (typically managed by a telecom operator) that converts the HTTP protocol to the WAP protocols for wireless transfer to a browser running on a wireless device. WML is an XML-based markup language that has elements that make it easy to author content with existing Internet tools that run well given the constraints of small wireless device (small screen, poor text input).

WAP has been rolled out worldwide and is most successful in the U.S. and Japan. European WAP deployments began this year (2000) and are having less success then elsewhere in the world due to multiple browsers with different interaction models. Content written for one WAP browser typically does not run well on another WAP browser.

Problem Statement

WAP Applications in Europe are not as usable as wireless applications in the U.S. and Japan

End-users of non-usable applications will not adopt or use WAP until these issues are addressed

Solution Constraints

Candidate Solutions

Market Example

WAP defines a SELECT element for providing a list. Some devices interpret this as a popup menu list; others interpret it as a menu that can be used for navigation. The interaction purpose of this element is not defined by WAP, so if a developer uses it, their application may run poorly on one device and well on another.

To solve for this example, a standard must be declared for a higher-level construct like "Navigation Menu" and "Option List" that includes specific interaction instructions. This higher-level construct explicitly defines the intent of the interaction independent of the content or presentation. These new higher-level constructs must be defined clearly in their purpose so that browsers can still customize to the native device user interface model and features/limitations, but the developer gets the intended result.