August 31, 2010, 5:17 PM

So where are all those iPad apps?

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

Lead Photo

Yes, it's cool. But do you need an app?

When the iPad debuted earlier this year, a handful of retailers unveiled iPad apps. These apps are tiny programs custom-designed to run on the new tablet PC and make use of its inherent features—they’re like iPhone apps, only bigger. Then came virtual silence. A retail iPad app popped up here and there, but nothing like the massive growth of iPhone apps and apps for other smartphones.

What gives?

I’ll tell you what gives: People shopping the Internet on their iPads are accessing retailers’ e-commerce sites, just as they would with any laptop or netbook. The only difference is they’re touching the screen instead of using a keyboard and a mouse. There is no need to optimize a web site experience via an app. Whereas with a smartphone, you need to modify the web experience because it plain and simple just doesn’t fit on the screen.

Because of its screen size and computing power, an iPad offers the same web browsing experience as a laptop—it’s just called a tablet PC for its lack of accessories. Have you ever heard of an app that optimizes web browsing for a laptop? No, because there are none. You just use the browser. And on an iPad, you just use the browser.

What’s more, HTML5, the latest version of the foundational Internet mark-up language, enables programmers to reach into devices and use their innate features in a way impossible with HTML4. So, for example, it used to be that only apps could tie in with a smartphone’s GPS system to pinpoint location. Now, programmers can accomplish the same thing on a web site that uses HTML5.

A case can be made for an iPad app—if you have the time and resources, and dedicated customers. EBay has a phenomenal iPad app that totally alters the way it presents products, from where they fall on a page to how big and high-def the pictures are to how a customer navigates the catalog. EBay also has a very loyal customer base that is more likely to download and use an app on a regular basis. So sure, roll out an iPad app that’s super-cool (and sells products).

But the bottom line is you don’t need an iPad app, as is shown by the deafening silence on the subject in retail.

Comments | 2 Responses

  • I'm not so sure that the reason we aren't seeing apps is becasue the browser expereince is "good enough." Frankly, the iPad is a lousy browser when you compare it to a laptop (or tablet PC, or netbook). Mobile Safari is very good experience when compared to other mobile browsers, but comparing it to Chrome/Safari/Firefox/IE on a laptop it falls very short. There is no background loading of multiple tabs, there isn't enough RAM to properly render complicated pages much less multiple pages, there is no plug-in support, no syncing forms and web passwords with your desktop, etc... No one that has access to a laptop, ever grabs a iPad to do any real browsing. Note, I do think the iPad is great for a variety of other use-cases. I think the main reasons we haven't seen a ton of apps specifically for the iPad are: 1. Apple gimped the iPad almost form launch, buy upgrading the iPhone to task switching, etc... in iOS 4 and NOT making iOS 4 available on the IPad. It was pretty clear very early that iPad wasn't going to get the same kind of support from Apple that iPhone gets, and that probably disuadded some developers from making a major investment. 2. Platform fragmentation. Shortly after annoucing to developers that they would have the option to write custom versions of their apps for the new iPad platform, Apple introduced a variety of other platforms. iPhone 4 Retina resolution, having to support iOS 3 and 4 in parallel, iPad resolution, etc... It suddenly looked to developers like supporting all the platforms would mean at least 4 unique app versions. (Retina iOS 4, iPhone iOS 3, iPhone iOS 4, iPad IOS 3) 3. iPhone are were "good enough'. It's easy for developers to just write for the lowest common denominator and the users will still get an OK experience on all the platforms. Eveytime a company has a popular product with a large installed platform and they release a cool new platform that has a backwards compatible mode with the old/popular platform you see slow adoption of the cool new features. How many 64 bit apps do you see for windows?

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