Filling the Void in M-Commerce Application Development

Aug 1, 2001

Adam Stone

Suppose you wanted to take you firm's wire-line commerce application mobile tomorrow. Would your software manufacturer be able to give you a wireless version? Chances are, probably not.

Analysts say software makers have been slow to create wireless versions of their commerce apps - and that's bad news all around. Their sluggishness is hindering widespread adoption of m-commerce, by making it harder for businesses to take their offerings wireless in a timely and consistent manner. By doing so, software makers also risk cutting themselves out of the loop, as corporations struggle to fill the gap with their own wireless patches.

So: Why aren't software makers moving more quickly to create wireless versions of their products?

In a nutshell: Because it is difficult and expensive.

"When you try and address a myriad of different portable devices, this whole concept of trans-coding from HTML to a wireless protocol really becomes an art," said Frank Viquez, a wireless analyst with Allied Business Intelligence in Oyster Bay, N.Y. "It really takes a lot of R&D on the software side, and [software] companies have not been rushing to make that investment."

At Chicago-based Curious Networks, a provider of mobile-enablement software, CEO David Cutler describes a number of major hurdles that software makers need to overcome in their efforts to grow their wireless offerings.

  • Cost - Not just the cost of developing mobile apps, but the "opportunity cost" - that is, the time spent on mobile apps and NOT spent on mainline business. "You have a team of developers, and if you want to move mobile you have to move a good portion of those people off of your core product," said Cutler. "You are not adding new features [to the core offering]. You are not adding new functions. You are just making it available as a mobile capability. So there is an opportunity cost in terms of what mobile development takes away from what you could be doing."
  • Lack of Skilled Labor - Not just in technology in general, but specifically in the mobile arena, where the plethora of device platforms requires a broad range of development talent.
  • Emerging Device Support - Assuming you can overcome the first two hurdles, you still don't get to rest, since new devices are hitting the market all the time. This means constantly recruiting and/or retraining developers, and pouring cash continually into R&D.
  • Speed to Market - All this leads to a speed-to-market issue. Developers acknowledge that their customers want mobile commerce and enterprise apps. But they want those apps now, not six months or a year from now. Rather than offer too little too late, many software makers are opting to offer nothing at all.

All this is having a chilling effect on the emergence of m-commerce.

Because software developers have been slow off the mark, "a lot of enterprises are just retooling the wired version of their current offerings, offering a truncated version of that on the wireless side, and that is just not very appealing to people with wireless devices," said Viquez.

For software makers looking to play in the m-commerce space, meanwhile, a slow start could have long-term negative effects.

Businesses "are going to find a way to solve this problem, and if they go a third party to mobile-enable a software product, it will be much more difficult for that software manufacturer to upgrade that product in the future," said Viquez. "It is putting someone else between the software manufacturer and the user, and that is always a very tenuous position."

Cutler, meanwhile, is hoping that this is just what will happen.

His firm makes a suite of tools that offer developers the ability to easily translate wired apps into the wireless space. If the software makers themselves won't get on the ball - either using their own internal development staff or tools such as his firm offers - Cutler expects that businesses looking to go mobile will take the reigns into their own hand.

"Enterprises have multiple ways they can solve this problem. Some may prefer to go to their software manufacturer, but if those manufacturers don't have those capabilities, companies like ours and others can provide those solutions," he said.

Viquez said that in the short term, this may be the best type of solution for firms looking to get into m-commerce sooner, rather than later.

"Right now if they just want to establish a presence, even with lackluster content, it is good to have some kind of plug-in, cookie-cutter kind of tool like that," he said. "That is what most of the companies will be looking for, at least initially."

Adam Stone writes on business and technology from Annapolis, Md. This story first appeared on, an Web site.


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