Mobile phones are currently selling faster than personal computers, but the idea of using handheld devices to access Internet information is an idea whose time has yet to come, according to one analyst.
“The idea of mobile Web access is still an unproven proposition, and I think that part of that is there isn’t really a killer application for mobile Web. How many times in your life have you personally had a need to trade a stock while you were walking down the street?” said Carl Zetie, a senior industry analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif. “The idea of spending $2 of airtime to read a horoscope just baffles me.”
That’s why Zetie is cautious about companies like Web2PCS.com, which has designed a Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) search engine and portal.
“There’s still a certain amount of caution about WML (Wireless Markup Language). It’s one of those technologies where we’re kind of in that phase where from here it either grows exponentially or it fizzles out,” Zetie said. But he’s on the optimistic side.
As for the search engine, “it’s an interesting idea,” Zetie said. “It seems kind of early in the evolution of WAP.”
The search engine provides users with information compatible with WAP-enabled handsets. The engine will make it easier for WAP handset users to track down information which is presented in a format specific to them.
“We’re basically looking at being kind of like the Yahoo of the WAP Internet,” said Web2PCS.com’s director of business development Raza Kamran in Toronto.
But, for now at least, there aren’t that many WAP-specific Web sites on the Internet, said Jill House, a research analyst at International Data Corp. (IDC) in Framingham, Mass.
“One of the big problems with WAP thus far is, although it is widely accepted and adopted by the handset manufacturer and the carrier, there hasn’t been much content available yet. So a site like this sort of indicates the trend of getting more content, more WAP-specific content out to the user,” House said.
About 186,000 smart phone units were sold in 1999, House said. But by the year 2003, IDC predicts that number will rise to about 2.6 million, a growth rate of 93.7 per cent.
“Any sort of composite portal site just looking to aggregate and offer content in WAP format is going to be well received,” House said.
Along with the search engine, Web2PCS plans to offer other services to mobile users, including delivering scheduled messages about news, whether, sports and other areas of interest. Users will also be able to receive information, such as sports scores, in real-time. Web2PCS will also offer an instant messaging service.
Those who signup with Web2PCS will also get an e-mail address and they can set up filters to determine which messages or portions of messages are sent to their handsets.
But this might not necessarily be an advantage to users, warned Ken Dulaney , vice-president of mobile computing at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group Inc.
“The problem with many of these messaging sites is that for corporate people, they are required to create a second mailbox. And that’s very inconvenient because they have to now manage e-mail from two places and it gets lost and they’re not sure where it is,” Dulaney said.
He also doubts that the need to search the Internet on a tiny screen with nine keys will be that great. There are very few applications, such as checking your e-mail messages, that make sense for mobile users, Dulaney said.
The key to Web2PCS.com’s success will be signing on with carriers, Dulaney said.
Kamran said that Web2PCS has a number of deals in the works with carriers, but he cannot release that information yet.
Kamran believes that Web2PCS can offer at least one advantage over larger sites that might also get into the WAP market. “What differentiates us from sites like Yahoo and Excite that are looking to get into the wireless market is their subscriber base is much broader in the sense that wireless is only one small piece of the puzzle for them. In our perspective, wireless is the puzzle,” Kamran said.
The wireless search engine (www.web2pcs.com/) is available for free.
Web2PCS in Toronto can be reached at 1-877-606-2727.