What is the next killer application? This is one of those perennial questions whose answer often seems obvious in retrospect but was not visible when you peered into the crystal ball.
While a lot of enthusiasm currently surrounds hosted programs on the Web, I think the killer applications for 2007 will appear in the mobile segment.
The combination of smart handheld devices, business applications enhanced by mobility, GPS software, and robust cellular and other wireless networks all adds up to the year of business mobility.
Recently, I attended the CTIA wireless show in Orlando, Fla., where my current thinking about killer business applications was reinforced. Consider the following:
The Federal Communications Commission is auctioning yet another chunk of frequency spectrum. The 700MHz frequency is really taken from the television industry, which freed the frequency as television shifted from UHF to digital.
As FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told CTIA attendees, a successful auction is the FCCs top priority this year.
The additional spectrum is important to mobile business applications because it exists in a frequency range that works well in penetrating walls and is capable of longer-distance transmission than other ranges.
The auction, if successful, can further the cause of bringing wireless broadband speeds closer to wired speeds.
Microsoft has a strong mobile application environment in the Windows Mobile 6 smart-phone operating system.
I think Mobile 6 will be more important to Microsoft in 2007 than Vista. The value of Vista is not immediately apparent to users, while Mobile 6, with a much richer Web experience, is something users immediately want.
At the CTIA show, AT&T officials said AT&T will be providing Mobile 6 as a free upgrade for Samsung BlackJack, Cingular HTC 8525 and Palm Treo 750 users.
An AT&T that is now re-energized is developing a mobile business platform with the same fervor its applying to its consumer applications.
AT&T Chief Operating Officer Randall Stephenson in his CTIA keynote made sure to mention his companys expanding mobile payments system (a joint effort with BancorpSouth and Firethorn Holdings) and application platform that, in real time, formats data to fit the screen of whichever device is requesting the information.
Both projects will improve business applications and make it easier to use the mobile platforms for business transactions. In particular, the payments system will bring online banking to mobile devices and will include enhanced security options.
On the show floor, I was taken with the range of new mobile business applications that solved real business needs.
One company used a combination of cellular “walkie-talkie” messaging combined with GPS reporting to allow a manager with dispersed field representatives to not only track employees but also know how long their service calls were taking. By using that information, the manager could schedule his workers more efficiently.
The ability to track and manage a far-flung network of employees is one mobility application that I think will find broad industry appeal, ranging from small businesses, such as local pizza delivery companies, to large organizations, such as trucking companies with nationwide operations.
Research In Motion President Michael Lazaridis gave a presentation in which he went through a long list of mobile-enabled business applications that allow companies to view real-time financial performance, current inventory, and purchasing and sales performance as a sale is taking place. And all those applications were viewable on a handheld device that is always connected to a companys core business applications.