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Avo Reid

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The Future Looks Bright for Mobile Developers

August 24, 2008

Programming for mobile devices still has its problems, which operating system to target, the fragmented target device market, and getting your application noticed and in the hands of prospective customers to name a few. There are changes happening in the industry that point to a bright future for the mobile developer.

First, after some faltering starts Smartphone's are starting to appeal to consumers.  Consumers are beginning to get comfortable with the utility of a mobile phone that can do many more interesting things than field calls. In fact, Smartphone sales increased to 19 percent of all mobile-phone sales in the second quarter representing a 9 percent increase from the same period a year ago according to a study by the NPD Group. What makes this increase even more impressive is that total U.S. mobile-handset sales were actually down 13 percent in the second quarter compared to the same quarter in 2007. "People are getting used to the idea that there's more to a phone than talking," said Shiv Bakhshi, an analyst who covers the mobile phone market for industry research firm IDC. "It's a very exciting time."

Second, Smartphone's are really getting smart.  With the introduction of 3G Smartphone's with GPS capabilities we now have devices that can support some very useful and interesting applications. According to Robert Pignataro, Nokia's director of retail channel sales "The market is evolving. You've got the convergence of the Internet, mobility, context awareness; this is changing the way people communicate ... voice is only 12 percent of the total use of the device. People are Web browsing, they're e-mailing, they're using GPS and their music. Nokia is looking beyond the device portfolio, which in itself is very broad. ... But we're looking beyond the device and saying: How do we evolve the usage of your handset into these areas to connect people with their passions and their interests anywhere?"

Third, it's all about the applications, the fight for the hearts of mobile developers is heating up. As the consumers appetite for Smartphone's heats up so does their appetite for useful and interesting applications to run, and the platform with the best applications will undoubtedly gain market share.  Apple, Google and Research In Motion (RIM) are falling all over themselves to lure developers to develop applications for their platforms.  RIM has a $150 million BlackBerry Partners Fund designed to stimulate developer interest in the BlackBerry device. Apple partnered with Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to create a $100 million developer fund called the iFund, they have already invested in five iPhone applications and have received 2,400 applications for additional funding.  Earlier this year Google launched a $10 million Android Developer Challenge, a competition that awards cash prizes to companies creating innovative applications for its Android mobile platform, they claim to have received 1700 applications so far.


Fourth, witness the emergence of a central means of distributing and marketing applications for developers - the App Store.  Up until now most consumers purchased a Smartphone and used the applications that came with it, rarely venturing to find and install new applications.  This may have been due to the difficulty in finding and installing the applications, or possibly due to the lack of interesting and useful applications targeted at the consumer. 

But now companies like Apple, with the iPhone App Store, are making finding and installing applications as easy and familiar as finding and downloading music from iTunes onto an iPod.  "Mobile users haven't seen apps like this before," Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, wrote in a recent report. According to Munster as many as 91% of iPhone owners will use the App Store to find and download applications. Munster's estimates that this kind of consumer appetite could lead to a$1 billion market by 2009. Google has announced plans to have an App Store in time for the first Android phones to hit the market.  RIM has been feeling pressure from the Apple App Store to follow suit or lose market share.

According to Apple, since the launch of the iPhone 3G and the App Store in July, 60 million applications have been downloaded.  Those are the kind of numbers that developers are easily attracted to.

So the future is bright for mobile developers.

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