June 17, 2011, 2:21 PM

IRCE 2011 Report: Crash course in iPhone vs. Android apps

Web retailer The Golf Warehouse votes iPhone; LifePics talks up Android.

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Retailer The Golf Warehouse is getting 3% of sales from mobile devices, and nearly all of that is from the iPhone and iPad, CEO Brad Wolansky told mobile commerce workshop attendees today at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2011.

With an m-commerce site and iPhone app, The Golf Warehouse, a brand of Redcats USA and No.  33 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, gets 94% of its mobile revenue and 84% of mobile visits from Apple products. So when retailers are wondering where to start, they should just stop wondering and go with the iPhone, Wolansky said. “Just start with the iPhone, ignore the debate and get it done.”

On the other hand, online photo print retailer LifePics cautioned that merchants need not get caught up in worrying about which phone is better, or which will win out in the future. “There are 27 studies out there for who’s the biggest, the iPhone or the Android,” said LifePics marketing director Ken McDonald. “There are essentially two big dogs in this fight and I don’t care—you need to be on both.”

After just over a year of offering the iPhone app, Wolansky provided the following tips for getting started:

 

  • Keep it simple. “Get rid of all the stuff that gets in the way of getting around easily,” he said.
  • Follow the rules. The approval process for the AppStore can be complicated, Wolansky cautioned. When designing your app, be sure to stick to the guidelines so it will be approved quickly.
  • Know the iPhone. Optimize your app to coincide with the touchscreen and other features that shoppers love about the iPhone.
  • Know the iOs platform. Build apps that look like the native functionality of iPhone software so that shoppers are already familiar with the environment. “Use drop drowns and scrolls to make navigation easy,” he said.
  • Keep it secure. Pay close attention to every security consideration and be sure to stay up to date with security updates.

 

Wolansky recommended working with a vendor that specializes in mobile commerce in the beginning to help design the app, especially for retailers with limited I.T. resources. The Golf Warehouse used an outside firm to develop its app, but has since brought mobile design and maintenance in-house, he said.

When it comes to Androids, McDonald said that while the mobile realm is evolving quickly, there is one thing that will not change: The openness of the Google platform allows for deep customization and flexible development options. This is contrary to developing an app for the iPhone, a process that Apple tightly controls with strict guidelines.

For example, retailers can design an Android app with a Mac, Linux or Windows platform, whereas iPhone apps must be created on a Mac. The app testing process is straightforward on Androids; retailers can simply e-mail a link to friends or customers and they can try the app before it’s even live in the marketplace.

Additionally, there is no approval process in the Android app marketplace, while the iPhone’s AppStore is highly regulated. “With the Android marketplace, you hit submit and it is instantly available,” he said. “There is no human that approves it. This is really nice and cuts out a lot of time.” With an iPhone app he said, the process was quite different. “We got caught up with an Apple lawyer for three months because they thought our icon looked like a Polaroid print,” McDonald said.

On one point, both speakers agreed: Retailers ought to get started with one or the other, and fast. “Don’t get fixated on whether or not to, or how to, just do it,” Wolansky said. “You’re going to be doing something different in 18 months anyway.”

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