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Firstly, lets consider that WAP really is just ‘the internet’. Gone are the days where reference was made to WAP and a superbly less-superior technology springs to mind. Today, WAP offers an entirely new breed of tech, but one that’s due to the same brainfart that gave birth to the mobile application revolution. Often referred to as the smartphone – a device which has PC-like capabilities. Throughout this article I refer specifically to PC-like browsing on smartphones when I speak about the ‘new WAP’).
In the developed world, this is something that is already sporting a surging adoption rate, however in countries like South Africa, the smartphone makes up less than 20% of the total cellular market (I pulled this statistic from someone else who probably made it up on the spot). Seen in this light, apps would seem to be a silly target for media companies, but that’s not the case – in fact, it would be equivalent to saying that media companies are silly to target the online PC market. If you think about it, the amount of people sporting smartphones are probably not that far off (in the short-term future, at least) to the amount of people sporting an internet connection on their PCs.
Mobile cloud computing
I think in order to understand the ‘new WAP’ one should distinguish between the new and the old. I like to refer to the new WAP as mobile cloud computing, seeing that it’s now possible for smartphone browsers to interpret smarter wapsites. That name is long and unnecessary though, so for arguments sake, let’s call it “awesom-o”.
So what is “awesom-o”? Put simply, it’s an infrastructure where data storage as well as data processing happens off-deck (off-deck refers to a function not on the phone). What this really means, is that it’s now possible for things to happen on the web, instead of on the phone, just like any web-service you currently enjoy on the PC web. Like your stock-standard internet. Now I am sure there are loads of people out there that are frantically disagreeing with my statement, and you are right too. Cloud computing exists on far more phones that just the smart ones. My sentiments, exactly.
That’s why improved WAP sites are cool. I’m not saying apps aren’t cool, it’s just that they are expensive to develop. If you think about it, in order to be present on the top devices via apps, you would have to develop for approximately 4/5 application stores, 4/5 different software environments and 4/5 different resources.
The flipside, which is “awesom-o”, in turn only has one development environment, and can be skinned with multiple CSS layers, so you could essentially have a different look and feel for each device. The downside to “awesom-o”, is that you do not get the free promotion you receive by being present on the app-store, nor do you get the on-deck presence which makes your service only one click away. With WAP, a user needs to enter a URL and go to the site in order to gain access. An app is one click away.
Now, in a market like South Africa, or any other under-developed mobile market, what do you do? Resources are scarce, and smartphone penetration is yet to mature. The simple answer is, prepare for the growth, it will come. However, do so wisely. It might not be viable for your specific product to be present on deck, or it might be vital. These are the things that you as a marketer should decide.
A US example where apps served to be much more fruitful than a WAP site is Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut launched an application for the iPhone after they had already built a WAP site which was not doing well, to say the least. However, the application they launched generated direct sales to the tune of $1 000 000 in the first 3 months. Not app sales, pizza sales.
If you are innovative in your marketing, anything is possible – this should be your mindset when choosing WAP vs. APP.
In my opinion, one would do the research specific to the brand, investigate opportunities, and find the perfect balance.