They may not be predominant yet, but Web-enabled wireless devices and Internet services are all the buzz, and Canadian e-commerce shopping portal NorstarMall.ca, which features over 500 Canadian and American e-retailers, has decided to get a head start.
The company recently launched the wireless version of its site with the help of MobileQ.com, a software developer based in New York. The company facilitates wireless e-commerce through its XMLEdge mobility platform.
The partnership between the two companies enabled MobileQ.com to not only set up the NorstarMall.ca platform, but also to assist any tenants of the mall who want to go wireless.
The tenants don’t necessarily have to be set up through them, according to Jason Colak, a spokesperson for MobileQ. Some of the current tenants, such as Amazon.com, did development work themselves, he said. As long as they have been set up for wireless, they are able to be added to NorstarMall.ca’s wireless portal.
The launch was an important move, according to Paul Romanchuk, the president and CEO of SKG Interactive Inc., the parent company of NorstarMall.ca.
“We wanted to make sure that we were going to be at the forefront of technology on the wireless front,” he explained. “From our perspective, the wireless front is going to be larger and more pervasive than anyone today appreciates.”
But analysts are aware and are in agreement with Romanchuk. This is something big — almost.
According to Jordan Worth, an analyst with IDC Canada, there will be significant growth in the wireless e-commerce area. But right now it’s important to remember that a lot of companies are still working on getting their regular Web sites up and running. And while there may be Web-enabled phones on the market today, the wireless services themselves are not.
“The services aren’t really there so much yet,” he explained. More services will be switched on over the next six months to a year.
“The ones that are doing it right now are the financial services, because those are the services that are being used on the wireless devices right now,” Worth explained.
Handsets will also be more visible, and eventually cheaper as well.
Right now companies “are trying to create the demand with these really sexy gadgets,” he explained. The phones look good, so people want them.
“You’re going to see a lot more of the affordable handsets this year,” Worth predicted. “The flip side of that is that the phones are affordable, but they might not do a lot. They have limited functionality, the screen size will be somewhat limited, the user interface is not intuitive and it will take some getting used to. This is still very early on for wireless Internet and wireless e-commerce.”
Businesses that want to get in early and stay ahead of the game can do so fairly easily, especially if they already have a Web site, MobileQ.com’s Colak said.
Some companies are “Web scraping” or “Web sweeping”, Colak said, which is essentially just taking information that already exists on a Web site in HTML code, and stripping off some graphics and reformatting it for wireless devices.
“(At MobileQ.com) we connect directly to their business data logic, or their actual business data itself, and what that allows us to do is worry about the presentation,” Colak said.
The information is taken, kept in XML format, and is then passed through style sheets for the appropriate wireless device. The application only needs to be created once, he explained, and it can then be applied to various devices such as Web-enabled PDAs and telephones.
While the wireless NorstarMall.ca only has a few tenants right now, Romanchuk anticipates many more in the near future.
What it ultimately comes down to, he said, is that the potential for wireless Internet access on Web-enabled devices is there.
“There’s more people with cell phones than with computers,” he said.
The wireless version of NorstarMall.ca is at http://wireless.norstarmall.ca, and MobileQ is at www.mobileq.com.