When I gave my talk about J2ME to BJUG a few weeks ago, one of the points I tried to address was ‘Why use J2ME rather than WAP.’ This is a crucial point, because WAP is more widely distributed. I believe the user interface is better, there is less network traffic, and there are possibilities for application extension that just don’t exist in WAP. (Though, to be fair, Michael Yuan makes a good point regarding issues with the optional packages standards process.)

I defended the choice of using MIDP 1.0 because we needed wide coverage and don’t do many complicated things with the data, but WAP is much more widely support than J2ME, by almost any measure. If you don’t have an archaic phone like my Nokia 6160, chances are you have a web browser. And WAP 2.0 supports images and XHTML, giving the application almost everything it needs without learning an entirely new markup language like WML.

So, we’ve decided to support XHTML and thus the vast majority of existing clients (one reason being that Verizon doesn’t support J2ME–at all.) So I’ve gotten a quick education in WAP development recently, and I just found a quote that just sums it up:

“As you can see, this is what Web programmers were doing back in 1994. The form renders effectively the same on the Openwave Browser as it does on a traditional web browser, albeit with more scrolling.”

This quote is from Openwave, a company that specializes in mobile development, so I reckon they know what they’re talking about. A couple of comments:

1. WAP browsers are where the web was in 1994. (I was going to put in a link from 1994, courtesy of the Way Back Machine, but it only goes back to 1996.) I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to go back! I like Flash, DHTML and onClick, even though they can be used for some truly annoying purposes.

2. “…albeit with more scrolling” reinforces, to me, the idea that presenting information on a screen of 100×100 pixels is a fundamentally different proposition than a screen where you can expect, at a minimum, 640×480. (And who codes for that anymore?) On the desktop, you have roughly 30 times as much screen real estate (plus a relatively rich language for manipulating the interface on the client). It’s no surprise that I’m frustrated with I browse with WAP, since I’m used to browsing in far superior environments.

3. Just like traditional browsers, every time you want to do something complicated, you have to go to the server. You have to do this with XHTML (but not with WML, I believe. WML has its own issues, like supporting only bitmap pictures). That’s not bad when you’re dealing with fat pipes, but mobile networks are slow.

4. Fitting in with the carrier is an issue with WAP. Since the browser is provided, you have no control over some important issues. For example, one carrier we’re investigating requires you to navigate through pages and pages of carrier imposed links before you can get to your own bookmarks. It’s the whole gated community mindset; since the UI sucks, it’s harder to get around than it would be with Firefox.

In short, use WAP 2.0 if you must, but think seriously about richer clients (J2ME, BREW, or even the .Net compact framework). Even though they’ll be harder to implement and roll out, such clients will be easier to use, and thus more likely to become a part of your customers’ lives.

4 thoughts on “WAP vs J2ME

  1. william layadi says:

    Hi Dan,

    I came across this article and would like to know how relevant it is today with the advancement in both XHTML and J2ME. Which one do you think is better and why….thanks!

  2. moore says:

    Hi William,

    I’m afraid I haven’t looked at these technologies for a number of years. I hope someone else who visits this page can answer your question.

  3. Chris says:

    Has ANYONE noticed the first paragraph – the author starts of with praising WAP – then states the functions are not available in WAP – so was he trying to praise J2ME – or trying to say J2ME has a limited functionality ???

  4. moore says:

    Thanks for pointing out an unclear point. At the point in time when this was written, WAP was more widely distributed, but everything else (user interface, network traffic, application extension/richness) pointed to J2ME being superior.

    Hope this clears it up.

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