eBay's iPad App: Go Graphic Big Or Go Home

Will big shiny images and touch-screen magic convince consumers to spend more time on eBay? The online marketplace is betting its iPad ambitions on it (pardon the pun).

eBay is launching an iPad app that aims to engage the user by putting the image at the center of the design, using oversized thumbnails and bleeding image close-ups to the edges of the device. The iPad’s touch screen functionality augments the traditional eBay search by letting users dash through several search pages with a few swipes of the finger. There’s also a price histogram at the bottom of the page that will let you narrow your search to a certain price range— the histogram also includes a volume chart so you can see how the goods are concentrated along the price scale.

It seems to be a vast improvement from the website and the iPhone app, in terms of feel and design but it’s not quite revolutionary. While it may not make or break eBay’s bottom line in the near term, I do think it provides a nice window into the company’s mobile strategy— a dimension that is becoming increasingly important to eBay.

According to VP of eBay Mobile, Steve Yankovich, the company really researched and thought about the iPad user experience and psychology before designing the app. Yankovich says the eBay team envisioned an iPad user sitting somewhere comfortable, enjoying mental downtime, and looking for engagement and entertainment— which is why the site is designed to mimic an interactive “window shopping experience.” While certain features are specific to the iPad and its touch functionality, Yankovich admits that the app’s design will likely influence the main site and the basket of mobile products, as eBay begins to collect and analyze user feedback.

As Robin Wauters pointed out earlier this week, eBay expects to double its mobile gross merchandising volume (the dollar value of transactions, before eBay’s cut) to $1.5 billion from $600,000 for the year ago period. The company’s iPad app launch also comes on the heel of two mobile launches: eBayClassifieds.com and the global marketplace. The flagship app has already been downloaded 8 million times.

Of course, eBay mobile (which includes all the iPhone, Android and iPad apps) is not about to eclipse the main site. $1.5 billion is still a small fraction of 2009’s total gross merchandising volume of $59 billion. The mobile market is young but I expect eBay to make more aggressive moves in this platform, especially with social media add-ons, over the next few years.

Read our full list of the best iPad apps at launch here.