Top 10 Mobile App Trends to Come

With Apple’s App store offering more than 100,000 iPhone apps and competitors such as the Android Marketplace clamoring to catch up, it’s no surprise mobile apps are hot — but for developers, the question is: Which ones?

Research firm Gartner today released its list of the top 10 consumer smartphone apps for 2012, based on the following factors: impact on consumers and industry players, revenue considerations, loyalty, business model, consumer value and estimated market penetration.

At the No. 1 spot on Gartner’s list of top mobile consumer apps is money transfers, followed by location-based services (LBS) and mobile search. In the fourth spot is mobile browsing, while mobile health monitoring checked in at No. 5.

Making the cut in the second half of the list are: mobile payments, near-field communications , mobile advertising, mobile instant messaging and mobile music services.

The apps identified by Gartner come at a time when the impact of smartphone applications reaches to all corners of the wireless industry. Fueling the app craze is the healthy performance of smartphones in the market — while mobile phone sales checked in at 309 million for Q3, a mere 0.1 gain from the same period last year, the smartphone segment topped 41 million, a gain of almost 13 percent from Q3 2008.

At the same time, however, the role of carriers is becoming simultaneously less integral to mobile apps, as device- and OS-based app markets like the Apple App Store continue to take off.

“Consumer mobile applications and services are no longer the prerogative of mobile carriers,” Sandy Shen, research director at Gartner, said in a statement. “The increasing consumer interest in smartphones, the participation of Internet players in the mobile space, and the emergence of application stores and cross-industry services are reducing the dominance of mobile carriers. Each player will influence how the application is delivered and experienced by consumers, who ultimately vote with their attention and spending power.”

Shen added that specialized market apps are the ones poised for success as the market matures.

“The ultimate competition between industry players is for control of the ‘ecosystem’ and user experience, and the owner of the ecosystem will benefit the most in terms of revenue and user loyalty,” Shen said. “We predict that most users will use no more than five mobile applications at a time and most future opportunities will come from niche market ‘killer applications.'”

While mobile money transfers via SMS tops the list, this service is seen as popular primarily with overseas users in developing markets, and it faces regulatory challenges despite its popularity, according to Gartner.

For most developers, it’s the No. 1 category of applications — location-based services, or LBS — where a lot of the action in app development will take place. Gartner described LBS as “one of the most disruptive in the next few years.”

The LBS user base will grow globally from 96 million in 2009 to more than 526 million in 2012, according to the report. “LBS is ranked No. 2 in Gartner’s top 10 because of its perceived high user value and its influence on user loyalty. Its high user value is the result of its ability to meet a range of needs, from productivity and goal fulfillment to social networking and entertainment,” Shen said.

Mobile search and browsing, No. 3 and No. 4 respectively, are going to be popular due to their mass appeal to both businesses and users.

Another mobile technology poised to break out is No. 8, mobile advertising. Gartner sees advertising-based app initiatives becoming more popular as smartphones proliferate in the marketplace, and eventually becoming a standard channel in the advertising mix used by brands.

Total spending on mobile advertising in 2008 totaled $530.2 million, which Gartner expects to grow to $7.5 billion in 2012.

“Mobile advertising makes the top 10 list because it will be an important way to monetize content on the mobile Internet, offering free applications and services to end users,” Shen said. “The mobile channel will be used as part of larger advertising campaigns in various media, including TV, radio, print and outdoors.”

Gartner’s certainly not the first to recognize the looming importance of mobile advertising. In recent weeks alone, Google purchased mobile ad firm AdMob in a move to cash in on the sector’s growth.

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