Designing a WAP site requires a slightly different approach from designing a conventional Internet site; here we take a look at some of the considerations required for designing a WAP site. I have broken this down into three areas; Site Content, Delivery Medium and Usability.
The first one of these, Site Content, might seem strange but is not when you think about the device that will be used to display your WAP site. Just because you have a good (or even great) Internet site does not mean that it will necessarily make a good WAP site. Some people say that WAP is mobile Internet, but that’s not quite true. WAP is about delivering information on the move but it is also about delivering relevant information on the move. Try and think about the circumstances when people would want to visit your site. If, for example, you can only see users accessing the site at home, then forget it. Who would access a WAP site when they can log on to their PC (or Mac) and access the real Internet?
WAP lends itself to specific applications including real-time or location information services. Take, for example, UpYourStreet (). This is a site which makes good use of a WAP device. If you enter either the postcode or the name of the town you are in, it will return a list of local services broken down into subcategories such as restaurants, bars and post offices. If your phone supports WTAI, it will even enable you to dial simply by clicking a link. With advancements in technology, it probably won’t be too long before the phone will be able to detect your location and tell your where the nearest restaurant is and display a map of how to get there.
The next area is Delivery Medium, in other words – the phone. Once you have decided that your Site Content is relevant for a WAP site, you then need to consider how it would look displayed on a WAP device. Internet Designers know of the problems with the differences between Internet Explorer and Netscape Communicator including all of the different versions and platforms. Well, WAP devices compound that problem – some have image support, some support WMLScript; I could go on.
Important decisions have to be made when thinking about designing a WAP site. Do you design your site for the ‘worst’ phone? But this means that you limited yourself as you will not be able to use images or WMLScript. Do you design your site for the ‘best’ phone? But then what about people who can’t display images? You then have to make sure that you have ‘ALT’ tags defined for all of your images but the lack of WMLScript support is harder to overcome. Do you design for every phone? Using CGI scripting you could design a different site for each phone/browser combination. This seems like hard work but with a bit of planning and the use of technology this could be fairly easy to do. A simple CGI script can detect the phone type and browser, and if you store your data using XML then it could be relatively simple to reformat the data according to the phone.
There are other physical restrictions that are placed on the designer. Certain phones do not allow decks over a fixed size and data transfer speeds are slowed compared to modems so time needs to be spent working out the best way of getting the most out of the limited resources.
So you now have thought about content and how that will look on the phone, now we will look at Usability. With WAP devices, you no longer have a keyboard and a mouse; input is limited to a numeric keypad along with a few ‘special’ keys. The starting point for any Internet site (WAP or ‘real’) is the URL, think about the length of the URL and how easy is it going to be to enter on a phone. As data input is slow, the next consideration is how is the user going to input the data onto the site? Try and keep data entry to a minimum, if possible use lists, or even intelligent processing which guesses what the user is trying to input.
Thought should be given to navigation of the site. Is there a direct link back to the home page from the current page? If the user is being guided through a process, how easy is it for them to go back to the start of the process? What about the data on the screen? Is it readable? How much scrolling is involved in displaying the page?
As you can see, I have posed more questions than I have answered. Hopefully, this article has given you some ideas and also some things to think about when you are planning your new WAP site. Hope it all helps!!!
Andrew Spiers runs Ranelagh WAP Designs, http://www.ranelagh.uklinux.net, a company
specialising in delivering dynamic WAP sites built using PHP and MySQL