Target is doubling down in the mobile space by launching new apps and unveiling plans Monday to update its flagship apps for smartphones and tablets in the next few weeks.

The changes include revamped iPhone and iPad apps that have been rebuilt from top to bottom, as well as a new app dedicated just to gift registries and one for pharmacy prescriptions. In total, Target is updating or launching eight new products.

"Virtually all of our mobile experiences will be entirely new," said Jason Goldberger, senior vice president of and mobile. "This shows how important innovation is to us."

Target has been criticized for being a bit behind the digital curve with a website that sometimes has hiccups and being slower to roll out new initiatives such as buy online, pick up in store capabilities than some of its biggest competitors.

But mobile has been an area where Target has shined recently. Its popular coupon app Cartwheel has helped Target outperform many other retailers with mobile traffic. Now, two-thirds of its online traffic comes from tablets or smartphones, and that's expected to grow to about three-quarters in the next year, Goldberger said.

"Mobile is growing like crazy," he said.

It's also been area of focus for Brian Cornell, the former PepsiCo executive who took over as CEO of Target a couple of months ago. Since he started, Cornell has repeatedly said new customers in the near future will have their first interaction with Target through a mobile app or the website, before stepping into a store.

But while Target's digital sales have been rapidly growing, they still account for only about 2 percent of overall revenue.

The new Target registry app, to be launched later this month, coincides with other recent changes. In the last couple of months, Target has replaced its old scanners in the store with iPod Touches for customers to make up their lists and added some functions such as product recommendations. The retailer is also rolling out iPads to all of its stores to replace old registry kiosks where gift-givers can view and print lists.

The upcoming new "Target Healthful" app will allow customers to send pictures of prescriptions to have them transferred. Currently, customers are redirected to Target's mobile website when they go to the pharmacy section in the Target app. But the dedicated app is expected to be faster and to have more bells and whistles.

The revamped iPhone app, which will launch later this month, will have a new, more Pinterest-like look and will have streamlined navigation and checkout. For example, the current app has about 13 different navigation options from the home screen while, in the new one, that has been pared back to five.

One of the new features includes an enhanced product search so that users will be able to locate the item they want in a store map of a particular store.

The updated iPad app integrates a lot more social media into it, including an item on the homepage that highlights Target products that are trending on Pinterest.

There is also a tab where users can view pictures that people have been posting to Instagram related to Target. A company spokesman noted that Target will get permission from individuals before linking their pictures to the app.

The current Target iPad app was initially created to mimic the functionality of its iPhone app. But people use their iPads more for browsing and inspiration, Goldberger said. So that's why the new iPad app has a different focus. "It's more about discovery," he said.

The iPad app was built by a completely new team hired within the last year, who are spread out across Target's offices in Minneapolis, San Francisco and India.

Investing in digital

All of the new products and updates unveiled on Monday are due in part to a big investment by Target to beef up its tech talent as digital has become a more crucial element to retail. In the last two years, Target has added about 150 new software engineers and other tech hires for a total of 600 people.

That added staff allowed Target to overhaul the back end of its mobile products to make it easier to roll out new features and updates. Goldberger compared it to remodeling a house. Under Target's old system, developers had to rebuild the whole house to make a change to just one room.

"We would have to republish all of the underlying code," he said. "Now we can remodel the kitchen without having to remodel the whole house."

With that new infrastructure in place, Target will update its mobile apps and related services more quickly.

Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113