If you haven’t seen it already, Magento have released a very snazzy looking mobile app for the iPhone, iPad and Andriod. With the slick looking interface, the relatively competitive price point, and the outward prestige of having your own app, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this an essential add-on for any Magento store. But after downloading some of the apps released by stores who have already signed up for this service, I’m left feeling far less enthused with Magento’s latest offering. I’m left asking myself one crucial question: is there really any point?
I Love Mobile
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of those old-school mobile users clinging onto a Nokia 3210 and with the view that the only use for a mobile phone is to make calls and text. I bought the very first iPhone when it was released, and it literally changed my life. I couldn’t live without it. And the advent of the app store has meant that I can do just about everything on my iPhone that I can do on my Macbook Pro (on a smaller scale, of course). And I genuinely believe that the platform is still in its infancy, and the best is yet to come.
So Why The Negativity?
So if I’m an iPhone advocate, then why I am against Magento’s mobile app? The answer is simple…the app doesn’t really offer anything you couldn’t offer with a well thought-out mobile website. Why would I as a customer go to the trouble of downloading an app and having yet another icon cluttering up my already insane iPhone desktop, when I can get exactly the same experience by firing up Safari and visiting a mobile version of your website? It just doesn’t make any sense!
And then there’s the retailers perspective. The Magento app may seem all glossy and professional, but realistically there isn’t much that can be done in the way of customizing it. Unlike the Magento platform itself, which is highly customisable and can be manipulated and extended in an incredibly powerful way, the app is very much a basic “off the shelf” solution.
If you were to put the money you might spend on the Magento app’s into having a good web designer build a mobile version of your store, the branding and user experience would be far better than the off the shelf app. That mobile website will then have scope to grow and evolve with your business. You can add new features, streamline the design, gather feedback from customers as to what they want from a mobile experience with your company and tailor the mobile website based on that feedback. With the app, you’re always limited to what Magento decide is best for your store. With a mobile website, the possibilities are endless.
An App or a Mobile Website?
There are mixed opinions on whether apps or mobile websites will be the future face of the mobile platform. Adobe conducted some market research that showed that 66% of people would prefer to use a mobile website than an app. Google have echoed this finding too, saying that the Web has the potential to change the face of mobile, in the same way it changed the PC. And Taptu recently released a detailed report concluding that websites will be the dominating force in the future of the Mobile Web.
From a personal point of view, what I find great about developing mobile websites, specifically for the iPhone and Android platforms, is that the browsers on both of these mobile devices have better support for HTML5 and Web Standards than even the current release of Internet Explorer. This puts an incredibly powerful toolset at the hands of web designers and developers without the need to worry about backwards compatibility with outdated, but widely used web browsers. HTML5 and forward thinking browsers such as Chrome and Safari make for a future filled with feature rich, multi-touch ecommerce websites designed for mobile devices. This is what excites me about mobile.
A Place for the App
But there is still a place for the app in the future of mobile ecommerce. I’ve been really impressed with what some of the bigger retailers have been doing with iPhone apps lately. The ability to scan barcodes and add items to your shopping basket is genius, and something that could not be achieved with a mobile website. What these retailers have done is to give customers and experience with an app that they cannot get from the web. There are other areas an app can shine, such as allowing users to add items to their basket offline, for when there is no Wifi or 3G connections available.
So what is the point?
The point is that your ecommerce website probably doesn’t need an app. And if it does need an app, then it probably doesn’t need the Magento app. That is unless you’re just looking for something you can pull out at a party to impress fellow iPhone enthusiasts. If that’s the case then it’s $700 a year well spent. If on the other hand you’d actually like to make some money from mobile ecommerce, you probably want to channel your efforts towards deploying a good mobile website. It will be far more scalable, customisable, accessible, and ultimately, it’s what your customers are going to want from your company’s mobile strategy.