What the iPhone 4S means for mobile commerce

Oct. 10, 2011

Many people have been waiting for the new iPhone 5 (including myself, stuck with a Jurassic-era 3GS), so you may be disappointed with the more minor upgrade recently announced in the form of the new iPhone 4S. But what does the iPhone 4S mean for mobile commerce? A raft of new features have upgraded the old 4, and while you might think these are just nice-to-haves, there are two new features that, in combination, have the potential to make mobile commerce significantly easier than before: faster data speeds and the Siri voice app.

First, the three main problems with trying to make an online purchase with an existing smartphone can be summarized as follows:

  • Small screen— The physical size of a smartphone screen makes entering personal data, such as delivery details, a major chore — sufficient to deter many purchasers.
  • Download speeds— Downloading product category pages with 30 or more images can be so painful that many mobile visitors will bail. This problem is gradually being addressed as merchants roll out mobile-optimized sites, but it is still a very real issue.
  • Payments— Payment methods have not yet caught up with developments in handsets. Entering payment data onto a smartphone is possible, but a long way from easy. While all the major payment companies and a host of new ones are working on mobile payments, they're not quite there yet.

So how will those two new features help address these issues?

A5 processor and faster download speeds

Apple claims that the 4S has up to two times more processor speed and up to seven times faster graphics due to its dual core A5 chip. This should mean that Web pages should download and render up to twice as fast as on the old iPhone 4. Download speeds also are claimed to have been boosted up to 14.4mbps which should mean faster connections, faster loading and reloading, and faster download. GSM and CDMA networks also are supported.

iPhone 4S data speedsSiri voice assistant

While Siri is not the much-needed larger screen, nor a better way of making payments, it could alleviate these problems by enabling users to input data by voice. Apple describes Siri as "The intelligent assistant that helps you get things done."

For example you can use voice control to set reminders, send texts and check the weather. Check out some of Apple's examples and the demo video here.

Siri voice assistant preview

While it is really impressive in the demo, it remains to be seen how well this will work in action. Voice control is notoriously difficult when the circumstances are anything less than perfect, such as when the speaker has an accent or there is background noise. Equally, if you have to learn a specific vocabulary that the voice control can recognize, then the system will fall at the first hurdle. However, it seemed to work very effectively at the launch event and appears to be robust. It will only be available initially in English, French and German, with other languages to follow.

While Apple's demo is heavily focused on personal productivity, the technology itself has significant implications for mobile commerce. When Apple purchased the company behind the technology in April 2010, Siri had an altogether larger scope.

For example, you can ask Siri to find tickets for the theater, and with your permission, it can go ahead and make reservations or buy tickets as well as use your location and context automatically. It does this by calling the relevant Web services, including Wolfram Alpha and a host of others such as Open Table. At the point that Apple bought Siri, it was already integrated with more than 30 different Web services.

Apple has clearly focused on deep integration of Siri into the iPhone 4S in a way that should bring voice control to the masses really for the first time. Hopefully, this deep integration will mean that common tasks become flawlessly simple.

So, while the processing speed increase is no doubt a plus, it is unclear to what extent Siri will ease mobile commerce on the iPhone. Will the Siri interface work with retailers' apps or with comparison shopping engines, for example? If it does, then mobile commerce just got a whole lot more interesting.

Charles Nicholls is founder and chief strategy officer for the consultancy SeeWhy.


Topics: Omnichannel / Multichannel, Payments, Technology


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