The Internet has brought a new wave of shopping to users. More of my friends prefer to shop at Amazon.com than go to walk down the street to the local outlets. I even bought nearly all my Christmas gifts for friends online, whether it was from the aforementioned superstore or eBay. Since everything is usually in stock when you need it — with the exception of Apple Inc. products — and it’s much easier to find what you’re looking for, there’s no reason to shop places like Wal-Mart anymore. Even pricing is better online, for the most part.
But with this radical movement comes a price: you can’t be drawn in by walking down the street anymore. There are no shelves to browse in the digital world; you just type in what you’re looking for. I’ve found that, on Amazon.com at least, it’s hard to discover things for people. With all the filters, categories, and confusing organizing tactics that the Seattle, Wash.-based company uses, browsing has been redefined, if not lost. Amazon.com has hope, though. It has an app called Windowshop, and it hopes you’ll find a new way to shop from your iPad. Let’s take a look.
No Tours or Sign-In Prompts, Just Shopping
Windowshop is a pocked-sized 4.9 MB download that will be done in mere seconds. After that, the app launches to browsing. That’s right: no sign-in prompts or annoyances, for once. Of course, if you do want to purchase something or browse your wish list, you’ll have to sign in to your Amazon.com account.
There’s also no tour of how things in the app work — you’ll have to figure that out yourself, says the developer. If you do want some documentation, tap the Menu button, tap Help and find what you’re looking for in the sub-menus.
The Main Layout is Like a Large Movable Grid
Right when you open Windowshop, you’ll notice there’s something different about its main appearance. Most apps use a list view or double column with the item on the left and more information on the right for when you’ve selected it. Windowshop takes a completely different and more intuitive approach of showing you the item, its manufacturer or author, a price and whether it’s eligible for Amazon Prime. Each app takes up a small square and fifteen can easily fit on the screen.
To move around or browse, swipe right, left, up or down and begin exploring. You can tap an item to expand it into a nice-looking card view, which allows you to scroll through items in that category as well as view details, reviews and related items. Each product has photos of it available in the main tab as well, but most of the time they’re limited to one or two. The Kindle Fire HD, for instance, shows a single image when the desktop Web site has a lot more, and not just from users.
Browse Individual Categories or Search
Don’t worry, the main screen isn’t all that this app has to offer for browsers like yourself. You can tap a category at the top to open it in its own grid view with additional sorting options and sub-categories. There are no sorting options, unfortunately, but there is a way to narrow things down by navigating to the sub-category that fits what you’re looking for or just opening the Peculiar Products section, which is all the way on the right. When you need to get back home, tap the appropriate button in the top left corner or just tap the back button to return to the last screen.
Alternatively, you can search Amazon.com’s database by tapping the Search field in the top left corner. Each category will have a number above it telling you how many results are available. You can then narrow things down from there, but don’t forget to scroll through things by tapping the up and down buttons in the listing page. While that may be useful for some people, it’s slow for others and doesn’t quite feel natural.
Sluggish, Buggy and Redundant
This app is extremely slow and jittery. Product pages open quickly enough, but when you’re looking for them it’s another story. Scrolling through the main screen (in any direction) will result in a serious lag, even if you just move your finger a few centimeters. The really strange part is that it happens when you only have a few images loaded. When the app has loaded a few hundred, lag would make sense, but not when there’s one section of them. Even stranger, rotating the device doesn’t cause the app to lag at all.
Speaking of listings, the main screen has some issues with what it shows you. Since some products are in multiple categories, scrolling through the grid will bring up a good number of redundancies. The Apple TV, for instance, appears in Electronics and Televisions & Video when it should only be in one. The same goes for an iPod touch, which is shown in both black and white instead of just one with an option on the product’s screen. Books, films and other merchandise appear the same way and it gets to be very annoying.
As for bugs, which every app has, Windowshop is over its limit. The Reviews tab often glitches and won’t show any content at all, user images aren’t available in the app so all you get is two pixelated photos, the Show Price button often prefers to be stubborn and not let you see it, and the Add to Wish List feature has a five to ten second delay in functioning. If only it stopped there. When you’re scrolling through the grid, images are not cached so the app reloads them every time; this is terrible for mobile users on LTE. Let’s just say this app has some problems in all areas.
Retina Optimization is Nowhere Near the Goal
You’ve probably noticed all those pixelated images in the screenshots by now. The cause for them is the developers being lazy, because the Retina iPad has been out for over nine months. They’ve had plenty of time to fully prepare the app for the holidays and at least make it tolerable. Sadly, everything but the menu bars and text looks hideous. All images are pixelated, even if you expand them after opening the product page. In addition, the corners of the app have a block look to them — something you would see after stacking a few LEGOs.
With most apps, pixelation would be fine. Windowshop can’t have any such thing, though, because it relies on photographs for its main functionality. People don’t like to browse distorted and extra low-definition images when they’re shopping, they want to be immersed in the beauty of the products on the screen. Not a single image in this app shows signs of having high-definition imagery.
The worst part about not having true Retina optimization is that Amazon.com’s official mobile app for iOS does have it. Every image in the app, with the exception of some products that are old, is crystal clear on a Retina display. The question is, how could the designers/developers get this so wrong in Windowshop? Maybe they just didn’t care, but it throws the app’s overall score down quite a bit, because this is the main user experience we’re dealing with. What a shame.
An Ugly Waste of Potential
This could have been the new online shopping experience when it was released in late 2010, but no one adopted it. Since then, it’s been updated with new features every few months, but obviously there wasn’t enough work put in to the development. Bugs are pervasive and pixelation rules the grid.
Overall, this app has a lot of potential. The idea is great, but the implementation lets the user down. Browsing is what shopping should be about, not searching. For now, however, you had best stick with supporting your local businesses.