Gartner has identified 10 consumer mobile applications to watch in 2012, with consumerisation expected to set the pace for mobile application adoption in organisations of all sizes.
The firm says the most important offerings will be specific to mobile rather than mere extensions of online applications. They will also tend to gravitate towards the higher-end devices - defined as those with an average selling price of at least $300 (£183).
Next year, the mobile apps arena will be a highly competitive market, especially around integration of innovative apps and technologies at the platform layer.
The top 10
Of 19 tracked by Gartner, social networking is the fastest-moving consumer mobile app. Platforms such as Twitter are hoovering up network traffic, as if they really were portals to another world.
Global social sites soon will provide services in partnership with third parties using open application programming interfaces (APIs). The sites themselves may become infrastructure providers, acting as data warehouses providing user information and access to consumer-facing brands.
Location-based services (LBSs), meanwhile, may be one of the main enablers of services delivery. Gartner expects 1.4 billion consumers to be using LBSs by 2014, enabling the delivery of services by a user's location, preference, gender, age, profession, intention and so on.
Visual search alongside product search can enable price and product comparisons, allowing users to perform actions such as buying a ticket or placing an order. Next, the experience will be built around mobile, to allow users access to immediate results so they can act quickly. Mobile device vendors could work with search providers here.
Over the next 24 months, m-commerce is tipped to become more specifically mobile, perhaps giving the ability to alert a retailer that you have entered the store, or add items to a shopping cart simply by using a smartphone camera and appropriate app.
"In the future, Gartner also expects richer m-commerce capabilities to expand from native apps to the mobile browser as HTML5 starts to be deployed, though this will happen at a much later stage," the analyst stated.
Near-field communication (NFC) will be in fancier phones this year, but it will not go mainstream until 2015. In the meantime, payment solutions providers need to build awareness and coverage, make m-payments easier to use and enact, and boost security.
Context-aware applications are another fast-growing consumer app area for the mobile device. They use information about a person's interests, intentions, history, environment, activities, schedule, priorities,
connections and preferences to anticipate potential provision of content, products and services.
More apps making use of object recognition - an increased sensor and processing capability that enables sophisticated applications to recognise the user's surroundings, including specific objects of interest - are also expected.
Meanwhile, mobile instant messaging (IM) will help attract consumers to new types of unified communication client, provided by the likes of Skype. Mobile IM should be considered for integration with location and presence functionality.
Mobile email is also increasing in popularity as more people buy smartphones, suggesting possibilities around cheap mobile extensions to existing email services.
Gartner expects that 713 million people worldwide will use mobile email by 2014, up from 354 million in 2009.
"Email addresses are personal and potentially extremely sticky," the analyst notes. "Technology and service providers should consider how they can make it easier for consumers to use their affiliated mobile email services as a way of ensuring long-term engagement with customers."
Gartner also sees mobile video as an app that should not be ignored. Tablets, and mobile phones with larger screens, are ideal for video. Careful marketing and consumer education should encourage rapid growth in this market, the analyst suggested.
Beyond social networking
Meanwhile, commentary from channel players suggests it may be unwise to over-focus on social networking when it comes to mobility - not least because mobile applications are appearing that offer clearer benefits to businesses.
Dave Stevinson, sales director at Warrington-based distributor VIP Computers [pictured, right], says he is seeing a lot of mobile apps development around cloud-based services. Increasingly, the products that VIP onsells include mobile capabilities, and this is being driven by consumerisation.
"There are quite a lot of mobile apps appearing, although it is still a relatively small market," he says. "It is about what I call nomadic computing activity, which is on the rise, and there are a number of drivers, such as the iPhone. So many people now are looking for off-client storage or minimal-client storage."
He warns, though, that not all resellers are stepping up. More of them, he suggests, need to understand that it is not simply box-shifting, and that they need to gain the skills to take advantage of the mobility opportunity. The distributor attempts to put its money where its mouth is here, and align itself with multiple vendors and qualify for related accreditations.
"Things such as security are not just about dealing with current threats, but about tackling threats going forward," Stevinson says. "And resellers need to understand the expectations of their clients and manage them. You cannot prevent every threat - but you can provide security to a certain level."
David Caughtry, director of core technology at security-focused distributor Computerlinks, says that in businesses the move to mobility can be understood as a migration to a virtualised desktop environment that harnesses remote working using mobile handheld devices such as smartphones or the newer media tablet form factors, rather than laptops, to do so.
"There are a number of opportunities," he says. "Probably the two key opportunities we are seeing right now specifically concern using the mobile device, and the way in which devices such as the iPad are becoming more commonplace as business tools."
The main opportunities currently, he adds, are about the day-to-day issues of using such kit in the workplace. This means security, privacy, compliance, network performance - but how to enable those things while still using the devices, rather than simply shutting down or restricting access.
"We are seeing a lot more activity around that, and we are seeing vendors coming up with various solutions, both for the security opportunity and also management of these devices across the infrastructure," Caughtry confirms. "And businesses are finding more devices that are connected [to their network]."
Resellers could perhaps look at what was happening in the US, he suggested, to map out their own path in the UK, which Caughtry believes may be months or even a year behind when it comes to mobility deployments.
Sandy Shen, research director at Gartner [pictured, left], says that VARs and other ICT providers obviously need to have some mobile elements in their offerings.
"Depending on their capabilities, this may range from device software, downloadable applications, mobile web-to-platform solutions, mobile middleware or management solutions," she says.
VARs still focused on hardware could bundle mobile devices, applications and content with their hardware, via partnerships or acquisition. Partnering will be very important by 2012, she agrees.
"The traditional VARs do not have mobile skills. So they need someone with mobile expertise to help them to capture some of the mobile opportunities," Shen says.
"[But] they need to have a good value proposition for their customers, rather than try to lump everything together to say they are a ‘one-stop shop'."
VARs should work to understand the problems of each customer and present customised solutions.
Shen adds that mobile apps in general are growing fast, but some especially quick movers include apps for games, social networking, VoIP or IM, and ones that facilitate productivity or utility - such as those with travel, location, coupons and commercial uses.
In 2012, end users are expected to spend $15.9bn on mobile apps - and these sales will also drive supplementary hardware sales, advertising spending and further technology innovation.
Gartner expects brand companies to increasingly shift their marketing budget to the mobile channel, and experiment with cutting-edge apps to capture marketing and sales opportunities. Companies, as well as technology and service providers, which stay abreast of the latest developments could stand out from the pack, adds Shen.
Ringing the changes
Tim Rea, chief executive of mobile apps developer Palringo [pictured, below right], says it started to focus more on mobile IM because the market developed faster in that direcion. Today, Palringo can in many ways be summarised as a group messaging product - an offering that enables groups to communicate and collaborate on the go.
"We are now handling in the region of 1.5 billion messages a day, globally," he says. "We have had 10 million unique users over the years, and have two million existing active users - which is not a bad ratio in the mobile space."
That is with minimal marketing, he maintains, and the advantages of different communication media in different scenarios mean that the opportunity surrounding mobile apps is diverse.
"With mobile IM, you can ask ‘who would like to answer this question?'. I can get that message to 2,000 or 3,000 people at the same time, and get two to three replies," Rea says.
"[And] in the UK there is a pretty big market based around TETRA [walkie-talkie] systems. Quite a few specific system suppliers supply businesses with communications packages that sit on the TETRA network. We are seeing customers saying this is expensive and clunky, so they are approaching us and asking if we can give them a platform so they can deliver solutions to customers who are currently using TETRA."
Storage on the go can still be an issue as well, although it is perhaps less of a problem when delivered via the cloud. The feared USB drive and its associated applications will remain useful accessories in the tablet market - which means resellers and other technology providers need to stay on top of the issues.
Kingston Digital, for example, will begin shipping the Wi-Drive in August, a USB key with Wi-Fi that, with an Apple app, enables three users to work simultaneously with different file types.
Keith Reading, managing director and founder of mobility specialist QoLcom, notes that email used to be the killer app, but mobile app development and rollout is becoming both strategic and critical to long-term corporate success. And firms are already looking to get their security, support and provisioning around mobile apps right.
"The app market is now experiencing explosive growth, and we are already seeing mobile apps surpassing other platforms. All our customers are either deploying or plan to deploy enterprise apps in 2011," Reading says.
"Resellers must act now to embrace the ‘app world', and can add significant value. We are even seeing the creation within the enterprise of ‘mobile communications departments' and ‘mobile communications executives'."
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