WAP the Heck is Going On?
by Nate Heasley for Digital Living Today

Hearing your cell phone provider yammering on about how you can now access the Internet through your phone, you're probably thinking: That's the last thing I want to do! After all, who wants to suffer the World Wide Wait with per-minute charges?! Two technologies may soon change your mind. Bluetooth, a short-range wireless standard being developed by a consortium of heavyweights like Intel, Ericsson, Nokia and Toshiba, will revolutionize how data is transferred between the mounting pile of gizmos in your orbit. WAP, or "Wireless Application Protocol," is sort of the HTML of mobile devices, a new open standard that defines the type of data that you'll be able to get on all your wireless gadgets.

Named for the 10th century Danish king who unified his country, Bluetooth promises to do the same for digital devices, allowing pagers, cell phones, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), PCs (and eventually your refrigerator, TV and microwave) to talk to each other over a radio network. Using Bluetooth technology, information can be swapped between gadgets with ranges of 30 to 300 feet, and the versatility of Bluetooth allows it to be used for everything from wireless computer networking to microcasting digital music and video throughout your home.

Imagine that before you've even established your morning caffeine IV, your PC has already sent the daily newspaper and email to your PDA, told the TV to start taping "The Big Game" in case you're not home in time, and taken a request from your fridge to buy some more baking soda for a long overdue de-funkification.

Step into your office and Bluetooth really goes to work. Your cell phone syncs the numbers and appointments you entered last night to your office computer (and the meeting notes your secretary added to your PC before you stumbled into work is sent to both your phone and PDA). Your phone also uses your office computer to fire off a message to your buddy's email-equipped wristwatch: "Are you coming over to watch the game tonight?" His response finds its way to your own e-watch, which vibrates while you're in a meeting: "Only if you've done something about that disgusting fridge!"

You'll have Wireless Application Protocol to thank for how all this information will be presented. In essence, WAP is a new communications standard specifically designed to cram the whole stinking Internet onto that miniscule cell phone, watch and PDA screen. By using languages similar to HTML and Java (the lingua franca of the Web), WAP optimizes the amount and quality of information and graphics you can get on tiny screen real estate and makes it easier to navigate. You'll be able to grab the headlines you need from your favorite news sites and check email and other messages on your corporate intranet through any info device, regardless how small. With these two technologies, you can expect to have Web access on your cell phone or wearable computer no matter where you go: hotels, airports, restaurants and offices will all have Bluetooth networks pumping WAP data into the air for you to grab.

While Bluetooth is expected to take off later this year, you can already get WAP phones. Content has to be specially formatted for WAP, but the number of sites using it is rapidly growing. The combination of WAP and Bluetooth promises to bring us out of the office cube farm and into the light of the real world. For some, this will be a shock (all that direct overhead lighting!), but soon enough, we'll wonder why we ever chained ourselves to a desktop.

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