Ten Mobile Apps to Watch

Mobile applications will increasingly define the user experience on high-end devices.

March 25, 2011

Focusing on high-end devices with an average selling price of more than $300, Gartner Inc. analysts have identified the top 10 cutting-edge technologies and trends for 2012.

Winning mobile apps will have unique features that cater to the mobile environment rather than act as a mobile extension of their online peers.

These mobile apps will also drive hardware sales, advertising spending, and 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 that stay abreast of the latest developments could make their products stand out from the pack, enhance brand image, and retain user loyalty.

Following are Gartner’s top 10 consumer applications to watch in 2012.

1. Location-based services

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Location is one of the main enablers that deliver services to users based on their context, and Gartner expects the total consumer user base of location-based services to reach 1.4 billion by 2014.

These services strive to deliver features and functionalities in tune with the user's context, taking into account the user's location, personal preference, gender, age, profession, intention and so on, thus offering a more-intelligent user experience than basic location services can.

Gartner analysts believe context-aware services are a key trend for mobile apps, and location is a key enabler of that.

2. Social networking

Mobile social networking is the fastest-growing consumer mobile app category of the 19 tracked by Gartner.

Social network platforms are sucking in increasing amounts of network traffic. They’re becoming portals, transit hubs, and cloud storage for increasing amounts of messaging and e-mail traffic, videos, photos, games, and commerce.

As mainstream adoption progresses, global social sites will be driven toward providing services in partnership with third parties using open application program interfaces. They’re likely to evolve to a role as infrastructure providers acting as data warehouses and providing user data and access to the more-consumer-facing brands.

Next: Mobile search

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3. Mobile search

Visual search is usually related with product search to enable price comparisons or to check product information. To bring mobile search to the next level, the app would allow users to take actions based on the result, such as making a call or reservation, buying a ticket, placing an order, and so on.

Gartner advises search providers to build the experience around mobile to allow users access to immediate results and to take actions, given the short time span users have.

Mobile device vendors should partner with or acquire promising search providers to integrate the technology, preferably at the platform layer, to offer a differentiated user experience.

4. Mobile commerce

Today, mobile commerce is more of an extension of e-commerce but in a smaller form factor and with a more-streamlined experience.

However, over the next 24 months, Gartner expects the emergence of uniquely mobile functions, such as the ability to "check in" to a store to alert a retailer that you are there, or the ability to add items to a shopping cart simply by taking a photo of an item or bar code in the physical store.

In the future, Gartner expects richer mobile commerce capabilities to expand from native apps to the mobile browser as HTML5 starts to be deployed, although this will happen at a much later stage.

5. Mobile payment

Although near field communication payment will be included in high-end phones from 2011, Gartner doesn’t believe it will become mainstream before 2015.

In order to get consumers on board, payment solution providers need to address ease-of-use for users and ease-of-implementation for customers without compromising security.

They also need to increase user awareness, extend service coverage, and address ease-of-use to appeal to end users.

6. Context-aware service

Context-aware applications provide improved user experiences by using the information about a person's interests, intentions, history, environment, activities, schedule, priorities, connections, and preferences to anticipate their needs and proactively serve up the most appropriate content, product or service.

Mobile carriers, along with handset manufacturers, should provide expanded location services to include, among others, directory assistance, mapping, advertising and privacy controls.

Next: Object recognition

7. Object recognition

High-end devices have an increased sensor and processing capability that enable sophisticated applications to recognize the user's surroundings, including specific objects of interest.

Because object recognition provides an easy-to-use interface, more apps will come to market with enhanced capabilities by 2012.

Users will rely on the camera, as well as other device sensors as a communication tool when object recognition capabilities are combined with more traditional app functions, giving users advanced search capabilities and a plethora of entertainment and productivity functionality.

8. Mobile instant messaging (MIM)

Gartner expects MIM to attract consumers to new types of unified communication client [], provided by over the top service providers such as Skype.

These service providers are threatening traditional communications service provider voice revenue. Companies that consider including MIM into new products should consider integrating it with other communications types, such as location and presence.

But they should be cautious about developing other functionality, such as federation of social network activity.

9. Mobile e-mail

Smartphones have begun to drive the mainstream adoption of mobile e-mail through a series of technology enhancements enabling low-cost mobile extensions to existing e-mail service.

Gartner expects mobile e-mail users worldwide to increase from 354 million in 2009 to 713 million in 2014, accounting for 10.6% of the global mobile user base.

E-mail addresses are personal and potentially extremely sticky. Thus they provide carriers, e-mail service providers, and over-the-top players with an opportunity to lock in consumers.

Technology and service providers should consider how they can make it easier for consumers to use their affiliated mobile e-mail services as a way of ensuring long-term engagement with customers.

Technology and service providers should consider how they can make it easier for consumers to use their affiliated mobile e-mail services as a way of ensuring long-term engagement with customers.

10. Mobile video

Mobile phones with larger screens and media tablets offer the ideal platform for video consumption. With careful marketing and consumer education, Gartner believes carriers and content providers would be able to drive mobile video usage in the coming years.

Mobile carriers should partner with YouTube and other popular video providers so users can replicate their Internet behavior on their mobile phones. Mobile device manufacturers should integrate HD and 3D capabilities in their high-end devices and look to bundle content either as pre-loaded or as free downloads through an app store.

For more information, review “Mobile Insight: Ten Consumer Mobile Applications to Watch in 2012.”