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Book Reviews - Waptastic!

Book Reviews - Waptastic!

WBT's Jeremy Hill compares the first two books on WAP to emerge from the world's technical presses and comes down heavily in favor of one of them.

Professional WAP
With WML, WMLScript, ASP, JSP, XML, XSLT,  WTA, Push and VoiceXML

Understanding WAP
Wireless Applications, Devices, and Services

The recent flood of interest in the wireless arena has brought with it an upsurge of interest in training programmers to incorporate WAP into corporate Web strategies, since the wireless revolution provides access to potentially billions of customers. Some of the best "founding fathers" of wireless application development have accordingly clubbed together to come out with the first round of technical reference books. The first two out of the gate, sent to WBT last summer in proof form by their respective publishers, are Wrox's Professional WAP and Artech's Understanding WAP.

While there are some good points to consider about the approach that each takes, Professional WAP stands out clearly as the much more advanced, hard-hitting technical book. Wrox Press lives up to its slogan "Programmer to Programmer." Wrox books in general, and PW is no exception, provide an overall comprehensive and understandable line of attack into the very confusing world of WAP. Understanding WAP, on the other hand, appears to be much more of a disjointed effort to pull together essays on various wide-ranging topics, some of which aren't applicable to WAP at all.

I was happy to see that both titles really adequately address the issues of design. In PW Luca Passani puts in big italic letters that "the design phase is more important than the development phase in WAP application." (Thank you, Luca.) The UW section on design takes a broader approach to the issue and includes some lessons on Web site design in general that may or may not actually apply to WAP applications. Much time and effort is spent on describing the "holistic process" of gathering user requirements and the iterative phase of debugging and changing code. There's nothing new here. Definitely not for anyone slightly familiar with the software life cycle. Although they are important points, and definitely not ones to ignore in WAP applications, the treatment just added to my overall impression of the discontinuity between the various chapters of UW.

Both books touch lightly on security. In the next round of evolution for the wireless application protocol, security is really going to be one of the main concerns facing the WAP Forum. Each book includes a chapter on WAP security, although I felt the one in UW was more understandable. Given the desire to get a book to market quickly, I can understand the inherent need to break up the chapters among different developers. At the same time there was a definite disconnect between the final chapter of UW, in which the author notes that "security issues are paramount," and the inclusion of only one chapter covering those issues. More information regarding potential security loopholes should be covered, especially the assumptions consumers make about Web security versus wireless Web security. As developers, we've hammered home the point of e-commerce security and that will naturally translate to comfort with m-commerce security. The question is: Should it? PW addresses this concern a little more directly.

Stephan Kasippillai's final chapter in PW - "What the Future Holds" - is right on. The issues he addresses are truly, from a technical standpoint, the issues that will be keystone in the near future. I was disappointed that UW didn't include such a chapter. In its own way, however, it does do a case study of a financial application and the need for WAP applications in the financial industry. While this case study seemed more applicable, I must admit that the speculative predictions were more fun to read.

Also disappointing was the lack of a CD with any sample code or applications for PW. While both devote much space to printing sample code, not having it in some kind of electronic form in PW makes it difficult to experiment. A definite bonus would have been to include some of the tools (Nokia's browser or UP.Browser). Additional developed sample applications highlighting some of the points not really emphasized enough in the books (security, for example) would help too.

WML and WMLScript, both fundamental languages for wireless development, are covered extensively. UW seems to be a lighter introductory manual to development, whereas the goal of PW seems definitely to be thorough coverage of both languages.

It's also apparent that the authors of PW wanted to include more discussion of the very latest technologies. VoiceXML gets its own chapter, whereas UW fails to mention it at all. Where usability issues are key, getting a good beginning understanding of VoiceXML is an important benefit for readers of PW. Neither book provided an in-depth discussion of EPOC - Symbian's operating system for mobile phones. (Wrox has published another book dedicated entirely to that subject, Professional Symbian Programming, by Martin Tasker et al.) Both books primarily discuss methods of content deployment.

This is really the meat and potatoes of the wireless world; the main drive is to provide information to a mobile consumer that is useful. PW includes chapters on applications written in ColdFusion and ASP (Active Server Pages). Dynamic content is what will draw a lot of consumers to the market and PW does a much better job of driving home that point than does UW.

There is no real comparison between these two books. Wrox does a superb job of covering all the topics, provides some real insight, and excels in highlighting some obscure points of WAP development. Artech's book is a little too simplistic to be of as much value.

More Stories By Jeremy Hill

Jeremy Hill, WBT's Generation Y editor, has a heavy interest in WAP development and wireless Internet access. He has served as senior Webmaster for large hospital chains as well as government agencies where he helped implement large-scale wireless Internet projects. His undergraduate degree is from the University of Michigan. He resides in the Los Angeles area, where he is currently pursuing a
graduate degree in computer science.

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