WWDC 2015 and the Future of E-Commerce Mobile Apps
Max Mamis
Max Mamis

WWDC 2015 and the Future of E-Commerce Mobile Apps

Max Mamis, Senior iOS Engineer

This post was co-authored by Max Mamis, Julio Rivera, and Htin Linn.

WWDC, Apple’s yearly conference for iOS and OSX developers, has come and gone, and with it came a whirlwind of information about new features and enhancements users will be able to experience this fall with the release of iOS 9. However, with such an outpouring of information, it can be difficult to discern which bits and pieces will impact your app’s users most directly. Our developers have put together a list of items they saw at WWDC that will directly impact and change e-commerce mobile applications in the coming months.

Universal Links

You have invested in a beautiful, innovative mobile app — but when a user who has installed it taps a Google link, they are sent to your old-fashioned responsive website, where they’re not logged in and are not receiving that handcrafted, native mobile experience you invested so much time and energy into. Until now, the solutions were either to deal with it or implement complicated, often brittle server-side logic to determine whether or not the user has the app installed.

With iOS 9, Apple has given us a better way. Your app can now register to handle all links for your domain, allowing the operating system to act as traffic director and send your users to the best possible experience. Tapping a link to one of your products in Google or on your website will now send the user right to the PDP in your native app, seamlessly. The best part is that the logic you have to handle is probably quite similar to any deep linking your dev team has already implemented for features like push notifications. Getting ready for this feature should be a piece of cake!

Another new feature, called Safari View Controller, allows your app to seamlessly link to Web content without kicking users out to another app or spending the effort building a Web browser inside your app. Between these two features, the border between Web and Native has never been more porous and the user experience more connected.

App Search

iOS 8 saw the introduction of Spotlight, allowing users to search through their apps, contacts, and limited web data all from the comfort of their home screen. With iOS 9, Apple has turned this feature into a first-class search engine. It’s a clear shot at Google, with the advantage that the apps a user has installed will be represented in the results — meaning your best customers might see more of your products.

Without going into too much of the technical nitty-gritty, there are a few ways to get your content in Apple’s index, but the most straightforward is to add some metadata to your website — similar to what you already have for Google, Facebook, and the like — and Apple’s web crawler (which they call “Applebot”) will discover it. After that, you simply need to implement Universal Links (discussed above) for your app so Spotlight knows where to send users who click on your links.

Apple Pay

Apple Pay was a huge deal for ecommerce apps with its unveiling late last year. This year, Apple is set to enhance it in many exciting ways that businesses can immediately take advantage of. For starters, Passbook has been changed to Wallet to better emphasize what Apple wants you to use it for: payment. Retailers can now support the use of Apple Pay with their in-store credit cards, loyalty cards, and rewards cards; B.J’s and J.C. Penney are just a few of the companies who will be taking advantage of this right out of the gate. Using Apple Pay will be a great convenience for customers who tire of carrying many credit cards within their physical wallet. Customers will also benefit from an easier checkout process — with just one tap of Apple Pay, customers will be able to seamlessly transmit their loyalty or reward information as well as pay for their product, greatly enhancing the in-store experience.

There have also been some enhancements to the Apple Pay APIs that allow developers to improve the overall experience within iOS apps. One improvement is the ability to open the Wallet app right from within your app. This allows the user to add credit cards, as well as makes it easy to return to the app by providing a breadcrumb; this removes the need for the user to tediously drudge back and forth between your app and Wallet to take advantage of all that these features have to offer. Another improvement is a way to add a card to Apple Pay from within your app. This is great for businesses who want to keep their users within the app while still enabling them to add their loyalty or rewards cards.

Minor enhancements in existing technologies, specifically Apple Maps and the Apple Watch, will also serve to improve the mobile experience. For instance, businesses and other locations that support Apple Pay will be marked within Maps, making it easier for users to pick out these locations. The Apple Watch will also support Wallet with watch OS 2 coming this fall along with iOS 9. Users will be able to make payments from their wrist as well as present passes.

One of the biggest items to come out of WWDC is already happening now: the launch of Apple Pay in the UK. With the launch, Apple Pay has begun broadening their physical coverage.  Already 70% of British credit and debit cards can be used with Apple Pay in 250,000 locations within England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This will have a large impact on mobile apps specific to those locations as now a new variety of credit/debit cards can be added. This shows that Apple Pay is only growing, and it is becoming an ever more ubiquitous addition to the commerce world.

Internationalization

In addition to rolling out Apple Pay in the UK, Apple is also expanding its efforts in internationalizing iOS and making it even more accessible to more users around the world. While the United States may still be the largest market for iOS devices for now, China may overtake it in the near future. China is an obviously important market for both Apple and for e-commerce apps given that it is a potential source of hundreds of millions of customers. Apple has underscored this point in the past few versions of iOS and OS X by introducing specific features and services targeted at Chinese users. iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan continue this tradition with a new Chinese system font called Ping Fang; it is designed with a focus on readability and is the counterpart to the English font San Francisco.

The new OSes will also come with support for better keyboard input and predictive typing for not just Chinese but also a number of other languages. On this front, if your app offers a localized experience for users of right-to-left languages such as Arabic, you are going to have a much easier time making the UI look right for those users in iOS 9. Apple has also made the layout engine much friendlier for handling localized text and presenting localized variants of your user interface.

Conclusion

Overall, iOS 9 provides a wealth of new experiences for iOS users that pack a powerful bunch. The walls between the web and the mobile world grow ever thinner with the addition of better deep-linking and search functionality while the walls between apps and their users come down with a broader spectrum of internationalization features and enhancements. iOS 9 will introduce a wealth of great new experiences for mobile e-commerce applications that will decidedly impact the design direction of mobile in the years to come.