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What Apps Will Be on Your Phone in 2012?

Money transfer, location-based services and mobile health monitoring are likely to be among the most widespread mobile applications within the next three years.

The increasing adoption of smartphones and the success of app stores has ignited the mobile apps market (follow the link for's run down of the top iPhone apps for business).

While until recently the mobile apps market had been dominated by the mobile operator, now there is greater competition between handset companies, operators and application developers who are all wrestling for control of the users' mobile experience—and their cash. As a result, there's now fierce competition for domination of the mobile apps space.

Analyst group Gartner (IT) has drawn up a list of the applications it thinks will be most popular by 2012, ranking applications based on criteria including their estimated market penetration, revenue and consumer value. Its list of the top 10 consumer mobile applications in 2012 include:

1. Money transfer
SMS services that allow users to send money to others have lower costs, faster speed and greater convenience compared with traditional money-transfer services. They have strong appeal for users in developing markets, with most services having signed up several million users within their first year.

But Gartner warned there are regulatory risks: because of the fast growth of mobile money transfer, regulators in many markets are piling in to investigate the impact on consumer costs, security, fraud and money laundering.

2. Location-based services
Gartner calculates there are 96 million users of location-based services globally today—a figure expected to climb to 526 million in 2012.

3. Mobile search
Mobile search is ranked number three on the Gartner list because of its high impact on technology innovation and industry revenue, but the analyst said the industry first needs to improve the user experience of mobile search so that people will come back again.

Gartner expects loyalty for mobile search to be shared between a few providers that have unique technologies in the field.

4. Mobile browsing
Mobile web will be a key part of most corporate business-to-consumer mobile strategies. Around 60 per cent of handsets shipped this year are capable of mobile browsing and the analysts expect that number to rise to 80 per cent by 2013.

Gartner said mobile web systems have the potential to offer a good return on investment, because they involve much lower development costs than native code, reuse many existing skills and tools, and can be agile—both delivered and updated quickly.

5. Mobile health monitoring
Mobile health monitoring could help governments and health-care providers to reduce costs related to chronic diseases and improve the quality of life of their patients. However, Gartner said currently mobile health monitoring is at an early stage of market maturity and implementation, and projects have so far been limited to pilots.

6. Mobile payment
Mobile payment made Gartner's top 10 list because of the number of parties it affects—mobile operators, banks, retailers, device vendors, regulators and consumers. Because of the many choices of technologies and business models, as well as regulatory requirements and local conditions, mobile payment will be a highly fragmented market, with systems built on a case-by-case basis.

7. Near field communication services
Gartner said NFC can increase user loyalty for all service providers, and it will have a big impact on carriers' business models—but the biggest challenge is reaching business agreements between mobile carriers and service providers, such as banks and transportation companies. Gartner said it expects to see large-scale deployments starting from late 2010, when NFC phones are likely to ship in volume, with Asia leading deployments followed by Europe and North America.

8. Mobile advertising
Total spending on mobile advertising in 2008 was $530.2m, and Gartner expects it to grow to $7.5bn in 2012. It's an important trend because it will be a key way to monetise content on the mobile internet, enabling companies to offer free applications and services to end users. The mobile channel will be used as part of larger advertising campaigns in various media, including TV, radio, print and outdoors.

9. Mobile instant messaging
While price and usability problems have historically held back adoption of mobile instant messaging, mobile IM is on Gartner's top 10 list because of latent user demand and market conditions that are conducive to its future adoption. It has a particular appeal to users in developing markets that may rely on mobile phones as their only connectivity device.

10. Mobile music
Mobile music so far has been disappointing—except for ringtones and ring-back tones, which have turned into a multibillion-dollar industry. But Gartner sees renewed efforts by various players in coming up with innovative models around music, such as device or service bundles, to address pricing and usability issues. iTunes makes people pay for music, which shows that a superior user experience does make a difference, Gartner noted.

Driving Business Through Technology

Steve Ranger of reported from London.

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