MobiCart, one of the more promising startups to emerge from September's DEMO conference, is a service that lets anyone create their own mobile storefront...for free! Currently, the service supports iOS devices, but the company has plans to include support for Android and Blackberry, according to its website.
Today, MobiCart has emerged from private beta, allowing all interested developers to sign up. And good news - it plans to remain free, even after the beta period ends.
The price tag may be the most disruptive thing about the new service, but it's not the only standout feature. In September, VentureBeat (which hosts the DEMO conference) compared it to a competing e-commerce platform called Magento, explaining that MobiCart is similar, but can also be used by those who don't already have standalone websites. That's a key differentiator for the service - you can build a DIY mobile store, without having an e-commerce desktop site in place.
However, if you do have a website, you can use the MobiCart API to programmatically update your mobile store from your site.
How is it Free?
To compare, competitor Magneto's pricing plans are steep - a $799 set-up fee combined with either a $69/month fee if on the monthly plan or $699/year if on the annual plan. Although, arguably, Magneto offers more features and customizations, MobiCart, may be "good enough" for some.
?The company says it's going to use open-source revenue models instead of charging people to use the service itself. According to a post on the company's blog (actually a syndicated TechCrunch posting), MobiCart will charge for the App Store submission process and "additional partnerships/support," it says. That's a bit of a risk, of course, but if it proves successful, it's a win-win for all involved, developers included.
In addition to its API and DIY tools, there's also a MobiCart app store...err..."add-on marketplace" (sorry, sometimes we forget that not everything is called an app store) which features add-ons built using the API. At the moment, there are just a few items listed - a Twitter add-on, a PayPal payment gateway and a Shopping Cart integration, the latter listed as "coming soon." However, MobiCart is inviting developers to create their own apps for this marketplace, and then either distribute them or sell them for a fee.
What's more, MobiCart-built stores can be "fully customized," says the company describing the feature. "It's your own store with your own brand." In other words, it doesn't have to look like a cookie-cutter app, as long as you have some basic design skills in tow.
Flying Under the Radar, Maybe Not for Long
We were surprised to see most of the major tech blogs ignoring this service's launch from private beta, outside of TechCrunch, that is. (VentureBeat doesn't count - they cover all their conference's start-ups). This is an intriguing service to watch, especially given its risky revenue model. Plus, mobile application builders and related services are an extremely hot industry right now.
We started collecting a list of these services in a publicly viewable/editable Google Doc which we shared via Twitter. At any given time, there are 900+ people viewing the file and adding items to the list. Looks like we'll now have to add MobiCart to the spreadsheet, too.