August 2, 2012, 11:40 AM

E-retailers can now add video chat to iPhone apps

Merchants can add the feature using common web programming languages.

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It’s inevitable that as more consumers use mobile apps to shop, more shoppers will require customer service help. That’s why video communications company TokBox designed a feature that enables retailers to add live video chat to their mobile apps without special mobile programming code.

The company this week released plug-ins for Titanium and PhoneGap that enable retailers to add mobile video chat to their apps using common web programming languages. Titanium and PhoneGap are two mobile tools that take web code written in commonly used programming languages HTML, CSS or JavaScript and convert those codes into mobile apps.

With this service, developers can download the plug-ins, then copy and paste their TokBox web code for online video—written in one of those common programming languages—and Titanium and PhoneGap will turn them into mobile apps for Apple Inc. mobile devices, a TokBox spokesman says. “Essentially they can build a video chat service into a web site, using web languages, and have it converted into a mobile app,” he says.

There are dozens of programming codes used today and each is designed for specific functions or devices. Web sites are generally programmed in HTML, CSS or JavaScript, whereas iPhone apps are often written in Objective-C, the spokesman says. For a developer proficient at web languages it can be very difficult to learn a whole new language in order to create a mobile app. With this new service, they don't have to, he says.

As the service just launched, no retailers are using it yet, the spokesman says. However, he says several e-retailers have expressed interest. The plug-ins are free. TokBox makes money by charging companies for video chats that include more than two people that tally up to more than 25,000 minutes a month. As many as 20 individuals can participate in live video sessions offered though the vendor.

"In an increasingly mobile world, platforms such as Titanium and PhoneGap are critical for the rapid development of mobile apps,” says Ian Small, TokBox CEO. “Tools such as video chat, which are becoming the norm online, have been slower to deploy on mobile because of the programming language barrier. Now, if you are a developer with web skills you can build video chat into a native app."

TokBox is a privately held company headquartered in San Francisco.

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