For a while now, Magento has been working on what they are referring to as Magento mobile. In short, it is an extension by means of which Magento store owners can create native iPhone apps (more platforms to be added in the future) that enable their customers to browse their store(s). Last week I joined a webinar to have a look at a live presentation of this extension and I had a look at the extension and its source code today. And – I just cannot help it – thought I’d added my two cents.
It looks like the new era of mobile commerce: Just install the new Magento mobile extension into your store – it is said to work in recent versions of the Community Edition (1.3+), the Professional Edition (1.6+) and the Enterprise Edition (1.8+) -, pay the one-time setup fee of USD 799,00 as well as the yearly maintenance fee of USD 699,00 and have the Magento system build your own custom-designed iPhone app. Rather than spending a sizeable part of your budget on custom app development, you do the customisations yourself and in no time have an app users can use to browse the store and purchase store items. (More information and screenshots of the interface in action can be found in the Webinar recap.)
Native vs. web-based apps
There are more than 225,000 native apps on the Apple App Store right now, downloads have surpassed the 5 billion figure. With more than 100 million devices sold these apps can run on, they surely provide a ton of opportunity. Those apps have access to the entire hardware, ie. the respective APIs of the devices they run on, e.g. camera, gyrometer, GPS etc. Also, they can create push messages to the user, which is quite handy in case of apps such as Facebook and Twitter. Interface designers can get creative and invent all kinds of new uses, as for example the range of new games shows.
In order to create such a native app, developers need to make use of the SDK provided by Apple, obtain a developer’s license and start coding their applications using Objective-C and the Cocoa Interface builder. Afterwards, they need to follow a set of guidelines in order to get those apps into the App Store.
Web-based apps, on the other hand, don’t require this procedure. In effect, they are specially crafted websites which are accessed via the Safari web browser. Using the HTML5 standard, interface developers can create their code in such a way that they make a nice application in the mobile browser window. This means that, rather than seeing a minified version of the website in question – which is the standard – the mobile device renders this website differently, making it perfect for use with the iPhone or the iPad. A good example of those web-based apps is the mobile version of Facebook, which makes it possible to use the website properly even on a small screen such as the iPhone’s. (For more information on web-based vs. native apps, see Apps vs. Web by Craig Hockenberry.
Magento’s app generator
Having had a glimpse at the source code of Magento mobile it seems that it mainly does two things: First of all it provides the necessary interface for letting shop owners customise their own app and send its specifications to Magento Inc. They will have some sort of process in place that turns those specifications into a native app and place them into the App store. Secondly, it generates a sort of additional XML layer that feeds the app and provides all the necessary catalog data.
The second part of this extension, in my view, is the goodie because it provides XML-structured information regarding the shop frontend, which is the source for the native app’s more lightweight checkout process. However, the native app itself, which is the first part of this extension, seems questionable. Given that every Magento store owner could have one or more apps for his store(s), this would eventually lead to a flood of new apps that would only slightly differ regarding a few layout parameters. In other words, the code base for all those apps waiting to be submitted to the App store would be quite similar, which is something I think Apple wouldn’t approve of at all in the long run.
But even if a good amount of those apps made it through the approval process, I find it hard to imagine that potential customers would download all those apps. It might be that there are some larger and well-known brands whose fans will embrace such a possibility, but this is an exception to the rule. For a native app to be successful it needs to provide some added value for those who install it. But other than browsing the product catalog and checking out the respective products, those new Magento apps will add nothing new.
Far better suited for this kind of shopping experience are web-based apps. Why not provide a streamlined XML interface and let frontend developers come up with a great mobile version? The iPhone theme, which was published in 2008 already was a step into the right direction, and I think in the long term store owners are better off concentrating on universal, platform-independent web apps than native apps for each and every platform.
7 Antworten auf Will Magento mobile rock the App store?
- Roy Rubin (Magento) sagt: 23.08.10 um 14:27 Roman,Good comments as always. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in this post. A few points from my perspective:- We are excited to offer Magento merchants the opportunity to experiment and be in market with both a mobile web and native app products. We’ve been on the market with a mobile web solution since June of 2008, and a native app product has been long overdue.- With the expected emergence of mobile commerce, we are now putting in the hands an affordable, best in class product that will allow our merchants to stay ahead of the competition and reach customers where they would feel most comfortable in transacting: mobile web and/or native apps.- We’ve taken a long, deep look at the Apple submission process, and at this time do not expect any difficulties in the approval process. There are players in other vertical that have hundreds if not thousands of similar type solutions in the market. There are already approved Magento Mobile apps live in the marketplace.- The debate of native apps vs. mobile web is an important one. There are a host of reasons (which you’ve partly mentioned in the post) on the benefits of native apps. We are in the very early phase of the mobile revolution and things continue to evolve quickly. Our perspective is to be in the market with a best of breed product allowing our merchants to experiment, discover and learn what may be most effective for their customers.- Innovation. Our model for Magento Mobile allows our merchants to be unique and create engaging mobile commerce experiences that create deeper customer relationships. Mobile exclusive sales, coupons, promotions will incentive customers to install apps. Push notifications will remind of special deals. Mobile exclusive retailers. Etc … I’m excited to see the community and our merchant base continue to push the boundaries. As with Magento itself, the real innovation comes from the community and our vision with Magento Mobile is to enable a ‘Platform’ product with extensions available via Magento Connect.This an exciting time to be a online retailer and have the opportunity to experiment and test a new, engaging Mobile Commerce channel with a product that for the first time has commoditized the technology and is within arms reach of every merchant, no matter the size.Roy
- Guido Jansen sagt: 23.08.10 um 15:30 Nice post Roman and great to see the response from Roy too. I was also having my doubts about native apps when I heard about it, but I’m looking forward to mobile Magento apps, how creative the companies can and will get with the Magento app extension and role they will start to play in mCommerce.By the way: is there a showcase anywhere with mobile Magento apps?
- Tim Schulz sagt: 23.08.10 um 15:46 Great post, and I’m impressed to see that you picked up on the possibilities that the XML Connect manager creates for merchants. Since the extension is distributed as open source, I’m really looking forward to the innovation that the Magento community builds upon this feature, especially with so many countries/devices at play.Here are a few more remarks/comments:
– you’ve reversed the compatibility for pro/EE. The product works with EE 1.6+ and Pro 1.8+- regarding native vs. Web apps, merchants who want both depth and breadth will need both, and there are some very creative ways to allow both to work together (stay tuned).- Native apps are especially important at this time because of the need to create a focused, curated, branded, and personalized experience to convert users. Push notifications are only the beginning of features that exist at this intersection of local/mobile/social/native. The web isn’t built for this, but it is still a player in mCommerce, and I see a future where both apps and WAPs exist in tandem and play to each other’s strengths (see the cover story of this month’s WIRED magazine for an interesting take on this). We see this playing out today, with more mCommerce dollars flowing through apps instead of browsers.
- Marko Matschig sagt: 28.08.10 um 10:33 I think it is quite unlikely, that people will actually download such apps, especially if they are not for well known stores/brands such as Amazon, eBay or other national and international players. Why would I want to download and install an app for some store, that I might only order from once? And in how many stores a normal person makes an order on a regular basis? I have already reduced the amount of apps on my iPhone down to about 100, because most apps, even if they bring with it a new, unique concept, are only being used once (there are already lots of studies about this, e.g.: http://www.itworld.com/mobile-amp-wireless/63034/app-store-grows-apps-are-seldom-used).Therefore I would suggest a store owner to create a mobile version of his store for the browser instead of an native app that next to nobody will be using on a regular basis.
- Atandt cell sagt:06.09.10 um 17:29– Native apps are especially important at this time because of the need to create a focused, curated, branded, and personalized experience to convert users. Push notifications are only the beginning of features that exist at this intersection of local/mobile/social/native. The web isn’t built for this, but it is still a player in mCommerce, and I see a future where both apps and WAPs exist in tandem and play to each other’s strengths (see the cover story of this month’s WIRED magazine for an interesting take on this). We see this playing out today, with more mCommerce dollars flowing through apps instead of browsers.