Apps, Marketing and the Cloud: Gartner Predictions for 2013

Apps, and with them cloud services, will increasingly become part of consumers' lives, offering business new opportunities, says Gartner.

There are changes ahead for mobile applications and the roles they play, according to a 2013 predictions report from Gartner.

The research firm expects apps to begin accomplishing much more—from delivering biometric information to more often including payment capabilities— to help make electronics even more personal and to reach a greater variety of devices through the cloud, which in turn will have implications on cloud adoption.

These changes will have implications on the way businesses promote their brands and should reach out to consumers, according to analysts with Gartner, who officially announced the findings in a new report this week.

"At the highest level, devices—the physical manifestation of the device itself—is becoming less important, and I say that with all kinds of caveats around it ... but the software is what makes it come alive," Gartner analyst Brian Blau told eWEEK.

Blau points to several strategic planning assumptions (SPAs) offered in the report: that by 2016, mobile app use will surpass the use of Internet domain names, making apps the No. 1 way of engaging with brands; that by 2016, more than half of consumers will use the cloud as their primary form of content storage; and that by 2016, wearable smart electronics—from the workout-geared FitBit Ultra to Google's promised Glass—will be a $10 billion industry.

"Apps are becoming a replacement for how you interface with companies. Before that meant a Website," said Blau. "Today, apps are blurring the line between the old Web interfaces that were not as functional and much more sophisticated desktop applications."

Gartner expects 45 billion app downloads, as of the close of 2012, and for these to generate revenue of $15 billion. By 2016, it expects those figures to rise to 305 billion apps and $74 billion.

Encouraging those numbers is also shifting from desktop PCs and browsers to more mobile devices and ultra-mobile form factors that offer touch-screen and keyboard input and make more devices more mobile in nature.

"The ability to reach customers at almost any place and time through mobile devices represents a fundamental change in how brands can deliver customer service, product and marketing functions, and supply physical and virtual goods," states the report. "It also, of course, makes mobile apps indispensible."

It also means more people will be turning to mobile cloud services. Blau said that Dropbox deserves some credit for popularizing the idea of content storage among consumers, but that Apple likely anticipated the role of the cloud.

"When Apple came out with the iPhone, they eliminated the notion of having a file. In PCs, we live and breathe files. Apple, with the iPhone, in one fell swoop got rid of files. Dropbox said, 'Hey, we'll give you somewhere to put your files,'" explained Blau. "What becomes important is how I click on a link to get access to my content."

Naturally, greater use of cloud storage will lead to greater competition to store users' music, ebooks, photos and more. Personal cloud providers such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon will compete with communications service providers (CSPs) like Dropbox and SugarSync, with CPSes working to outcompete rivals with "CPS-specific features," writes Gartner, "for example, the ability to back up contact lists, text messages, voice mails, calendars, ring tones and mobile apps in a cross-platform environment."

Blau said that in all aspects of the increasingly crowded digital marketplace, personalization is becoming a key way to win customers. One quick example, he said, is the recent "flurry of activity around lightbulbs." Philips, for example, makes a bulb with WiFi and Linux built into it, enabling customers to create lighting design schemes.

"These are devices that have a little bit of compute power, and all of a sudden they become smart, because they have software attached."

But even less-smart devices can play a role, Blau said, explaining that he recently installed a new garage door opener and was shocked to discover that users could order different shells to personalize their clicker.

"If someone is personalizing something themselves, or from the software side, bringing together data to make the interface personal to them, in their minds, they're more connected to a company," said Blau, and that creates what all companies are shooting for—"stickiness."

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