April 8, 2010, 12:00 AM

Wine.com uncorks new ideas for its mobile apps

Consumers have downloaded 100,000 copies of the iPhone and iPod Touch apps that Wine.com launched just before Christmas, and now the retailer is thinking about adding services to the app and about offering apps for other smartphones.

Consumers have downloaded 100,000 copies of the iPhone and iPod Touch mobile apps that Wine.com launched right before Christmas, and now the retailer is thinking about adding services to the app and whether to offer apps for other smartphones.

Wine.com, No. 218 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, enables consumers with the app to view wine descriptions and ratings, create shopping lists, rate wines and store wines in virtual cellars.

Serious development on the Apple apps started in October, says Amy Kennedy, Wine.com’s vice president of marketing. Wine.com engaged vendor Exygy to develop the app.

Wine.com and Exygy had already worked together to develop an app for the Symbian mobile operating system. Though Symbian is less popular in the United States than in other parts of the world, Symbian was looking for apps to put into its new app store, says Zachary Berke, founder and CEO of Exygy.

Working together on the earlier app made the process of creating the Apple app faster because the two companies could piggyback on the coding and programming done earlier. “You can build on what you’ve done,” Kennedy says. “It’s almost like you paid your dues.”

Wine.com selected the iPhone and iPod Touch for its first mobile apps because they are high-end devices and Wine.com has an affluent customer base, Kennedy says. While many business people use Blackberries, with the exception of the newest Blackberry Curve , those smartphones lack the interactive, graphic experience of the products from Apple, she says. “Also, apps were almost synonymous with iPhones,” she adds.

As part of the early development work, Wine.com opened up its application programming interface, or API, to Exygy so that the vendor could have access to its systems and data. One of the most challenging aspects of the nearly three-month development and testing was avoiding what Kennedy calls mission creep-the temptation to stuff the initial app with many services before it is put to the test with customers.

That said, Wine.com already is planning additions to the Apple apps. First up is a mobile cart that would enable consumers to complete purchases more efficiently from their mobile devices. Now, a consumer wanting to buy wine using the app either must open her web browser on the smartphone, or press a button to call a customer service representative. “It’s not the smoothest process right now,” Kennedy says.

Wine.com decided against offering a mobile shopping cart in the initial apps because of the time and money involved, work that includes protecting the payment card information customers would store in their accounts. “We would like to get the cart finished this year,” Kennedy says.

The retailer also is considering apps for other types of smartphone operating systems, including Android, developed in part by Google Inc. and used on Google-backed mobile devices. About 9% of U.S. smartphone subscribers had Android phones in February, up from 3.8% in November, according to comScore Inc., an Internet measurement firm. “Google’s Android platform continues to see rapid gains in market share as more Android-compatible devices are introduced to the market,” comScore says.

Kennedy won’t reveal much more about other smartphones Wine.com might tackle next, but the technical work promises become easier. One reason is that retailers and app developers such as Exygy can take advantage of Phonegap.com, a web-based, open source development tool for building mobile apps using JavaScript. Phonegap essentially is a translator, enabling developers to take the coding of one app and convert much of the work into another app. “Phonegap provides a layer of abstraction on top of different languages,” Berke says. And that, he says, can save companies a lot of time and brainpower. “The real geeky, deep engineering stuff needs to be done only once.”

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