According to a & #BANNER1 & # UK-based survey by Bango Plc, one out of every 11 people worldwide who log on to the net through their mobile phones is an Indian. Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is a technology which lets users access the internet on their mobiles. India is expected to become the third largest mobile population by 2007, and developing a WAP site is no doubt on the to-do list of every respectable consumer brand.
The growth in this sector is fuelled by the efforts of network operators such as Airtel, Hutch, Reliance and portals such as Yahoo, Indiatimes and Sify, which have a mobile Web presence. Besides these, there are content developers such as Mobile2win and OnMobile, which create websites especially for the smallest screen.
E-mailing, instant messaging, tracking stock market prices, sports, news headlines, music downloads - they are all happening on the mobile screen.
Arvind Rao, CEO and founder, OnMobile, says, "Currently, the WAP sites (in India) are not too fancy, but with mobile clients coming into the picture, the experience is getting richer and richer day by day."
However, the medium possesses certain limitations such as slow connectivity, more distractions in the form of unending links and limited space for content. These can really move surfers away from mobile surfing.
One way to avoid this is by "avoiding clutter on the navigation at the top of the page", suggests Rajiv Hiranandani, country head, Mobile2win. The key to making a good mobile site is to provide clarity, limit scrolling to one direction, provide the surfer with precise content and ensure the page size is within the memory limits of all basic devices, he explains.
One should think of the circumstances in which a user accesses a WAP site - whether he needs immediate information or is logging in for leisure. In short, the content must be relevant to need.
Creating a WAP site is different from creating a Website. There are three basic elements that must be considered - content, delivery medium (i.e., the phone) and usability. The site must be compatible with the lowest models of compatible phones. Basic things such as readability, fewer links and images, and easy navigation are significant.
Asif Ali, chief technology officer, Mobile-worx Inc., says, "A WAP site follows a typical Web development life-cycle. For most end users, it would be great if they use an existing service on the web like Winksite.com to create a mobile site." A mobile phone doesn't have a large keyboard or mouse, so the number keys and a few special keys form the keyboard here, thus the usability of a WAP portal needs attention."
"One of the problem areas in WAP is its speed and utility which, after 3G networks and more sophisticated terminals, has made possible the concept of the Internet over mobile devices a reality," says Shekhar Suman, business development head, J9 Solutions.
Rao of OnMobile advises developers to follow the basic principles of design: "A good WAP site should adhere to the 3Cs - cost, content and context." It's an arduous task to customise the tools on a tiny screen, so it's important to give users as much relevant content as possible in the given space."
The mobile site should be built with the end user's pocket in mind, as subscribers in India still pay for mobile use per kilobyte.
The process of building a mobile site can take anywhere from 45 to 60 days and some of the cost parameters could be user interface, phone browser compatibility, and features such as search and personalisation.
The mobile phone has a wraparound quality that can touch one easily. For marketers, mobile sites present a very engaging medium, which, if utilised appropriately, can strike the right chord. More than just exploiting the intimacy of the phone, companies should use the technology in a form that invites an environment of friendship and fun. Consumer empowerment and user-driven marketing can find its roots in the interactivity of the mobile.