What sort of computers will consumers use to purchase products from ecommerce firms? We asked this to Rob Witman, the CEO and founder of Riffware, a provider of mobile software applications and other professional applications. Prior to founding Riffware, Witman was a Sr. Robotics Engineer at Evolution Robotics.
PeC: Practical eCommerce recently viewed an ecommerce site through an iPhone. We could hardly see the products on the webpage. As such, how can consumers use mobile devices to purchase products online?
WITMAN: The interface has always been the challenge on phones and I believe it will continue to be a challenge. The size of the screen is fundamentally at odds with the user’s desire to have a small device that fits in their pocket. Zooming and panning definitely help, but it isn’t the same as having sufficient screen real estate, as with a desktop.
The key with mobile has always been to recognize its limitations and advantages, and customize the experience accordingly. You mentioned that you looked at an ecommerce site. While the browser is pretty slick on the iPhone, it was still a challenge based on the size and layout. If you want a good user experience you need to create a phone specific version of your webpage at the very least. The best results come from custom client applications that are focused on that one particular task. It’s a bigger investment, but we have seen time and time again that large brands are not pleased with the user experience via the web on mobile phones and choose to take the next step and actually develop a stand alone application that runs on the phone.
Another way of handling this issue is with familiarity. I don’t really need to see the actual box art clearly to purchase Halo 3. I know what I am getting, and I just need to see that it’s available and for what price.
PeC: What issues should ecommerce businesses consider when they attempt to appeal to users of mobile devices?
WITMAN: Focus on what you can do in the mobile environment and do it really well. You aren’t going to be playing Second Life from your phone next week, but you certainly could be outfitting your avatar [in Second Life], dropping messages to other players, or reading notices of real estate for sale.
The first iteration of the eBay mobile client was a great example. The focus wasn’t on searching or buying; it was on monitoring your current transactions. This plays to the strength of the phone, mobile access to information, while minimizing the weaknesses, visualization and user entry.
PeC: Five years from now, what percentage of total PC users will use an
operating system from Microsoft? Why is that difficult to project?
WITMAN: That’s a pretty tough question, but I can say that it will be less than it is currently. The problem with being at the top is that there is only one place to go, down. It is inevitable that with the resurgence of Apple and the growth of open source projects, Microsoft’s market share will continue to decline. However, even with the relatively cool reception to their latest operating system [Vista], Microsoft will continue to hold a significant majority of the total installed base. It takes a lot of activation energy for large companies to switch something as core as its installed operating systems.
From a consumer perspective, people are much more likely to have a PC (IBM-clone) in their home than a Mac, so you run into the same issue. Do I really want to throw out all my old data and games and start over (be it Mac or Linux or whatever) or do I just want to upgrade to the latest? That’s an easy question to answer for most day-to-day users.
PeC: What new hardware devices do you foresee in the future?
WITMAN: Honestly, the last thing I want is another device sitting around my house. What I would like to see is further progress in device convergence and integration. What I want is a home computer that doubles as my media server and digital video recorder and is accessible from my phone, along with the rest of the home appliances. I don’t need it to stream video to my phone (although that is coming) but I would like to check if the stove is on, or setup a show to be recorded. The phone should also be capable of syncing up with the home media center while on its dock. I don’t want all of my home pictures and music on my phone; I just want a couple songs for the day/week.