July 10, 2014, 1:21 PM

How Apple’s iOS 8 will change online shopping

Two online retail experts discuss how Apple opening its fingerprint scanner and widgets to developers and other iOS 8 developments will change shopping as well as the so-called Internet of Things.

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The innovations Apple Inc. has lined up in its new mobile operating system, iOS 8—available now to developers and in the fall to consumers—will change how, when and where consumers shop; advantage, mobile commerce, some online retail experts say.

With iOS 8, Apple has opened up the biometric fingerprint scanner on its iPhone 5s (and in September, on the rumored two models of its iPhone 6) to developers. This will enable retail app developers to allow app users to log in to accounts and check out via one touch of a finger. That eliminates the need to type in any information on the tiny screen of a smartphone, the biggest hurdle for retailers trying to convert shoppers on smartphones into buyers. Suddenly, the smartphone goes from the most difficult computing device on which to make a purchase to the easiest.

Combining fingerprint scanning with shopping apps for the No. 1 smartphone on the market, whose owners are prolific mobile shoppers, will have a huge impact on online retail, says Rick Chavie, chief solutions officer at Hybris Software, an e-commerce and m-commerce technology provider owned by SAP.

“Not having to enter your user name and password to access the information stored in your account: That alone will greatly accelerate mobile commerce,” Chavie says. “That, without doubt, will improve the process of mobile shopping.”

Further, he adds, if card issuers and other players in the financial industry can accept a physical fingerprint on a smartphone as the equivalent of presenting a physical card to a cashier, then suddenly what today are “card not present” transactions would become the equivalent of in-store transactions and retailers could get reduced fees on mobile financial transactions, Chavie says.

“That would be a game-changer,” he adds. “If consumers embrace in a big way their fingerprint as a form of identification and a mechanism to complete a sale, companies handling transactions will have to get on board.”

Also in iOS 8, Apple is enabling developers to incorporate special widgets into web sites and mobile apps. A widget is a tiny, usually single-purpose program that can be incorporated into a larger program, such as an app. A widget can be used by developers to easily and quickly bring a specific function to a site or app.

“If I build an iOS 8 mobile commerce app in English, through a translation widget I can communicate to consumers in other countries to activate the widget and it will automatically translate the app into their language,” says Craig Besnoy, mobility specialist at Mindtree Ltd., a global information technology consulting and services firm whose specialties include e-commerce and m-commerce. “That very quickly removes barriers for retailers seeking to get into international e-commerce.”

Apple’s iOS 8 also is designed with the so-called Internet of Things in mind. The Internet of Things is the rapidly growing array of devices—thermostats, garage door openers, cars, refrigerators, home security systems, you name it—that can link to the Internet.

“Apple is connecting health, home and family with all sorts of web-linked devices and iOS 8 at the heart,” Besnoy says. “With permission, it can gather a massive amount of data about a consumer and put that data to use in ways consumers will like. It’s no longer just your purchase history and web browsing history. It’s your health status, how many kids you have, the temperature in your home, where you’re traveling to, and so much more. Suddenly retailers can proactively let consumers know when they need something, becoming a trusted adviser as opposed to a marketer.”

Besnoy encourages Internet of Things naysayers to think twice.

“What surprises me every day is how willing our society is to give out personal information if it gets benefits or discounts or eliminates the noise of advertising,” he says. “Every time you use Google search or Gmail, you give Google permission to market to you in a predictive manner and you get better ads and information. Apple is laying the groundwork for the bigger picture, and the omnichannel self will emerge once you use your new iPhone to shop and monitor your health and handle your home security and so on. All secured by your fingerprint.”

Apple iOS 8 is another step toward a future in retail, and computing overall, where mobile devices dominate, Chavie of Hybris Software says.

“Smartphones and tablets become the critical bridge to all these sensors and monitors out there,” Chavie says. “A consumer could use her phone to request a sales associate in a store, for example, and the associate can see everything the consumer has allowed that retailer to see when she first set up the merchant’s app on her phone, which is the hub for her life.”

Consumers increasingly are shifting activities from desktops and laptops to smartphones, tablets and wearable computers (such as smartwatches and smartglasses), and Apple is making the shift even more enticing to consumers and retailers with iOS 8, Besnoy says.

“In 10 years,” he adds, “everything will be mobile.”

Follow Bill Siwicki, managing editor, mobile commerce, at Internet Retailer, at @IRmcommerce.

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