Top 10 Consumer Mobile Apps for 2012

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Top 10 Consumer Mobile Apps for 2012

Ever the would-be high-tech Nostramadus, research company Gartner has picked out 10 software applications it believes will define the mobile computing experience for consumers by 2012. More importantly, Gartner sees the balance of power moving from mobile carriers to consumers, who buy smartphones to access the Web. Gartner Research director Sandy Shen says most mobile users will use no more than five mobile apps, with several killer apps winning out over the riffraff on Apple's iPhone, Google Android smartphones, and handhelds from RIM, Palm, Nokia and others.

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Mobile Browsing

Mobile browsing-the ability to surf the Web-was enabled on more than 60 percent of handsets shipped in 2009. But with smartphones duplicating our desktop Internet experiences, Gartner expects 80 percent of all handsets will ship with a mobile browser by 2013. Mobile browsing is table stakes for opening new portals into the mobile Web, paving the way for e-commerce and a host of other online activities for users on the go.

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Mobile Search

Just as search is the gateway to the Web on the desktop, mobile search is the gateway to Internet access. Gartner says "the ultimate purpose of mobile search is to drive sales and marketing opportunities on the mobile phone" and you know what? That's true. Consumers search for things to buy, but they also look for directions and do research via Google and other search engines. Of course, the mobile search experience needs to be as seamless as using desktop search from Google, Microsoft Bing or any other search engine. Case in point: Google just ported its movie search site to iPhones, Android devices and Palm smartphones.

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Mobile Advertising

Where there is mobile search and Google, you can bet there is mobile advertising. But just as mobile search remains weak compared to its desktop counterpart, catching the correct mobile ad forumla has proven to be as tricky and elusive as a fairy tale fox on the so-called third screen of mobile phones. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are working feverishly to find the right formula. Google last month bid to buy mobile display ad maker AdMob for $750 million, a premium valuing the company more than 10 times its worth. Google paid that much for a reason. While Gartner said spending on mobile ads totaled $530.2 million in 2008, Gartner expects this figure will grow to $7.5 billion in 2012. Now that's some serious mobile monetization.

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Mobile Instant Messaging

Gartner said cost and usability issues retarded the growth of mobile instant messaging. All this means is the market is ripe for new opportunities. There is plenty of latent user demand and other market conditions are conducive to the future adoption of mobile IM. It has a particular appeal to users in developing markets that may rely on mobile phones as their only connectivity device. Mobile IM presents an opportunity for mobile advertising and social networking, which have been built into some of the more advanced mobile IM clients.

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Mobile Music

Apple was clearly onto something with its iPod nine years ago, but P2P file sharing services have decimated the music industry and, except for ring tones, music has been a bust on mobile devices. "We see efforts by various players in coming up with innovative models, such as device or service bundles, to address pricing and usability issues," Gartner's Shen wrote. "iTunes makes people pay for music, which shows that a superior user experience does make a difference."

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Location-Based Services

Imagine you're walking down 7th Ave. in New York City when all of a sudden you're iPhone alerts you that a shirt you've been eyeing has gone on sale at Saks on 5th Ave. You can walk over and buy it. This happened because you're phone is programmed to know where you are, and stores you've (presumably) given your mobile number to contact you in the event of a sale are following through. That's one type of context-aware, location-based service Gartner sees as a potent consumer app. Location-based services are one of eWEEK's favorite types of services and pose great potential as mobile apps. Twitter, for example, just opened up its Geolocation API, while services such as Foursquare and Gowalla are lighting up the iPhone and Android devices of the digerati in urban locales. Gartner predicts that the LBS user base will grow globally from 96 million in 2009 to more than 526 million in 2012.

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Mobile Payment

Think back to the previous LBS app example. You find a shirt you want at Saks 5th Ave, but suppose you're with friends and don't have time to walk over and grab it. But you've tried it on and know it fits and you don't want someone else snagging it. Rather than walking over to the store, you decide to pay for it right from your mobile phone. Mobile payments make this possible. However, Gartner said, because of the many choices of technologies and business models, as well as regulatory requirements and local conditions, mobile payment will be a highly fragmented market, meaning parties in the supply chain will need to work out mobile payments on a case-by-case basis. In other words, mobile payment standardization will elude us into 2012.

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Money Transfer

If we can buy things from retail stores from our mobile phones, why can't we wire money elsewhere, say via Short Message Service (SMS)? "Its lower costs, faster speed and convenience compared with traditional transfer services have strong appeal to users in developing markets, and most services signed up several million users within their first year," Shen explained. However, regulators in many markets are investigating the impact on consumer costs, security, fraud and money laundering, clouding the future of mobile money transfers.

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Near Field Communication Services

A type of scanning technology based on RFID, near field communication (NFC) allows contactless data transfer between devices by placing them within ten centimeters of each other. The technology can be used to shop for food in supermarkets, or clothing at retailers, or to pay for gas at the pump, all with a simple RFID swipe. Contactless payments are big in Japan, but in the U.S. mobile carriers and service providers, such as banks and transportation companies, have been more leery of this technology. Gartner foresses to see large-scale deployments of contactless technology starting in late 2010, when NFC phones are likely to ship in volume, with Asia leading deployments followed by Europe and North America.

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No Title

Mobile Health MonitoringTired of doctor's visits? Everyone is. Mobile health monitoring leverages mobile devices to monitor patients' health from afar. This is particularly useful for patients who are far from healthcare facilities, or who are housebound. Startups such as Transmedia's Glide Health make it possible for peoples' personal health records to be accessible on one mobile platform by patients and healthcare professionals. However, mobile health monitoring is very nascent, with development limited mainly to pilot projects. Gartner expects the healthcare industry will eventually be able to monetize the service by offering mobile healthcare monitoring products, services and solutions.

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