App stores point to bright future for mobile ecommerce

VodafoneThis series of posts about Ecommerce is brought to you in conjunction with Vodafone, who are currently recruiting a Head of Ecommerce, see Chinwag Jobs for more information.

RAOK Suggestion #15 Buy something on the internet by garethjmsaunders Mobile e-commerce has been talked about for more than a decade. Back in 2000 publications like vnunet were asking "Mobile commerce - big or REALLY big?". It has been a long journey since the days of WAP sites and slow data services. Today's mobile phones give users web browsing and video playback just as happily as dealing with phone calls.

Web retailer has been blurring the line between web and mobile purchases for some time, but purchasing using mobiles is still challenging, partly because of small screens and keyboards and partly due to a lack of services that target users on the move, away from their desktops.

Sites built for Mobile are now growing, from the - mobile face of twitter to Mobilizer services like Mippin. Commerce has been conducted by phone for years - call centres don't distinguish between traditional and mobile calls. Voice recognition technology is another avenue for moving mobile commerce into the digital domain. SpinVox use speech recognition technology to deliver voicemail as email, but similar technology could be used to automate sales transactions. Realistically, it is the web that holds out the best route for mobile e-commerce.

The mega trend paving the way for growth is the accelerating sales of smart phones. Analyst firm Juniper Research predicts that smart phones will account for 23 per cent of all new handset sales by 2013 - Next Generation Smartphones: Players, Opportunities & Forecasts 2008-2013. That stills leaves a large installed base of older phones, but the trend sees higher value users changing their handsets fairly frequently, providing a significant customer base, in terms of financial value, if not number of phones.

Along with smart phones have come the app stores. Apple is usually first one to spring to mind, with the iPhone App Store, home to thousands of paid-for applicaitions. However Apple isn't the only game in town and nor was it the first, although its PR machine seems to trump the competition. A number of other app stores have launched in recent months, playing against the more closed Apple approach.

The mobile industry's annual bash in Barcelona, Mobile World Congress in February, saw mobile operators and smart phone vendors jostling for a piece of the e-commerce pie. Apple haven't been asleep at the wheel since launching their store though. This week they announced new features which may turn the iPhone into an e-commerce engine, by allowing financial transactions to be embedded inside of the applications themselves. Nokia have the Ovi Apps Store, while RIM (BlackBerry's parent) and Palm have yet to launch their offerings. Microsoft have been gradually taking the wrappers off of the Windows Mobile App store.

There are two direct approaches to getting into mobile e-commerce. One is to build mobile-friendly sites (for example using the dotMobi spec), which means avoiding Flash and heavy use of JavaScript. The second is to build apps for the mobile devices themselves, taking advantage of the new features in the Apple iPhone App store and offerings from mobile operators. There are pros and cons to each. A website-based approach allows access to the largest number of mobile handset users, while the app approach provides access to the most advanced features of each handset platform.

Mobile e-commerce is finally coming of age. It's time to pick a strategy and get involved, at the very least, so that you can start to build up expertise in what promises to be a vibrant and growing market.

[Pic courtesy of garethjmsaunders


another Introduction to

another Introduction to iPhone applications MyMote is developed iPhone SDK and it can be downloaded from the App Store without any charges. Unfortunately the applications is not approved yet. But you can get an ad hoc distribution of a development snapshot here.