Unless all the major telecom providers adopt one of these technologies or ignore them all and settle on a standard 3G (third generation) system, we are headed for a fractured world of competing and incompatible wireless data networks. Once again, it is the customer -- even the largest of corporate customers -- who will lose out as the various service providers seek to differentiate themselves and in the process rob customers of the chance for a single, ubiquitous wireless network.
The Nielsen Norman Group, in Fremont, Calif., has recently released a 90-page study entitled "WAP Usability -- Déjà vu: 1994 all over again" (see www.Nngroup.com/reports/wap).
The study claims that WAP (Wireless Application Protocol)-enabled cell phones are pitifully poor and haven't changed much in their usability since 1994. I read the executive summary and will attempt to read the entire survey soon. But one of the survey's major conclusions is based on misleading information.
The survey says, "Our conclusion that WAP doesn't work is based mainly on our examination of timed-task performance studies."
They asked 20 users with WAP phones in London to access a weather forecast. (Why anyone in London would need to access a weather forecast is beyond me. They all walk around with umbrellas anyway.) And the numbers are thus: It took 2.7 minutes for new users of WAP phones to check the local weather. After a week of use, it took those same users 1.9 minutes to access the local weather.
The study says the improvement is minimal and anything longer than 30 seconds is so poor that no one will bother to use the service.
"Our basic conclusion is that WAP usability fails miserably; accomplishing even the simplest tasks takes much too long to provide any user satisfaction. It should not take two minutes to find the current weather forecast."
OK, so I asked Jakob Nielsen, one of the creators of the survey, this question: "Do those times represent the time from the moment the person undertook a task to the time he or she figured out how to 'do' the task, or to the time that the information actually showed up on the phone?"
I was trying to discern if there was a problem using the WAP user interface.
Nielsen replied, "The definition is always the same: Task time is the time elapsed from [the time] we asked the user to do something until he or she has the answer. In this case, this means until the information was displayed on the phone."