10 Essential Mobile Apps to Invest in 2011: Gartner

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10 Essential Mobile Apps to Invest in 2011: Gartner

by Clint Boulton

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Context-Aware Apps

This is sort of an umbrella category because most of the apps that follow will be "context-aware." That is, such apps leverage information about a user's interests, intentions, history, environment, activities, schedule, priorities, connections and preferences to serve up the most appropriate content, product or service. Google is actually a huge proponent of this, with Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Marissa Mayer (pictured here), the company's head of geolocal initiatives, promising contextual discovery as Google's next big market. Gartner believes mobile carriers and handset manufacturers should provide better directory assistance, mapping, advertising and privacy controls to accommodate such tools.

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Location-Based Services

Popularized by Foursquare, location-based services mobile apps will reach 1.4 billion users by 2014. What's cool about Foursquare Gowalla, Facebook Places and Google Latitude is that they offer ways for users to interact with others by letting them know where they are from their mobile phone, via the "check-in." This in turn will lead to big ad and e-commerce dollars.

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Social Networking

Where there's check-ins and location-based services, there's mobile social networking, which Gartner found to be the fastest-growing consumer mobile app category. "They are becoming portals, transit hubs and cloud storage for increasing amounts of messaging and e-mail traffic, videos, photos, games and commerce," Gartner noted. They won't say it, but we will: The growth is largely thanks to Facebook, whose social network boasts more than 100 million mobile users.

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Mobile Video

Smartphones with 4.3-inch and larger screens, such as the Motorola Droid X, HTC Evo 4G (pictured here) and others, have made consumption of mobile video from YouTube, Hulu and other sources much more palatable. Gartner said handset and tablet manufacturers should integrate HD and 3D capabilities in their high-end devices and bundle content either as preloaded or as free downloads through an app store.

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Mobile E-Mail

Gartner said mobile e-mail users worldwide will increase from 354 million in 2009 to 713 million in 2014, noting that e-mail addresses are fairly permanent, enabling carriers and e-mail service providers "to lock in consumers."

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Mobile IM

E-mail is nice, but Gartner also believes mobile instant messaging will be a boon for service providers such as Skype. The researcher said companies that consider including mobile instant messaging must integrate it with location and presence.

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Mobile Search

Gartner expects product search to enable price comparisons or to check product information to be a big deal. To bring mobile search to the next level, such an app would allow users to make a call, reservation or buy a ticket. Heres an interesting idea; such a product would marry something like Google's Shopper app with its Voice Actions technology.

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Object-Oriented Recognition

This last one is one of our favorites. Gartner expects increased sensors and processors in high-end smartphones will boost object recognition for computer vision apps such as Google Goggles or software from Superfish. Users will find information about products, places and things and perhaps even people by snapping pictures with their smartphone cameras. Apple is also working on this technology, courtesy of its Polar Rose acquisition.

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Mobile Commerce

Gartner said over the next two years that users will be able to "check in" to a store to alert a retailer that they are there. Shoppers may also add items to a shopping cart by taking a photo of an item or scanning a bar code in a store. This could be a blend of Goggles and Google Checkout and PayPal.

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Mobile Payments

So what will drive this mobile commerce? Mobile payment technologies enabled by NFC (near field communication). However, Gartner does not believe that NFC will become mainstream before 2015, as payment solution providers, hardware and software makers address user experience and security challenges associated with coordinating between NFC sensors and the devices and objects that depend on them to facilitate data transmission.

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