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Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce
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.
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.