Apps trends of tomorrow

19 Dec 2008

Technology is great, but it's apps and services that make the money. With the mobile industry firmly locked on to their 4G roadmaps, Wireless Asia looks at the top technology trends that will impact how cellcos approach the content side of the business (NOTE: Mileage may vary depending on the economic winds of change in your market)

Cloud computing goes mobile

The idea of cloud computing in the IT world has been around for ages, but now that smartphones - notably the iPhone and the Android-based G1 - are both driving mobile internet usage and creating easily accessible warehouses for users to get purpose-built apps for all kinds of things, the concept of computing in the cloud is gaining traction in the mobile sector.

For the uninitiated, 'cloud computing' (and related terms like virtualization and software-as-a-service) essentially lets the network, rather than a PC, laptop or handset, run a given app and do the heavy lifting in terms of the computer processing. Result: mobile users can use hundreds of apps without worrying about disk space, and can free up processing power, which can also extend battery life.

This is already happening at various levels, from basic things like BlackBerry Enterprise Server to mobile versions of virtual-reality sites like World of Warcraft. Meanwhile, vendors are looking at how to optimize the handset for the cloud. Companies like VMware and Wind River are promoting 'hypervisors' for ARM-powered devices that essentially divide the handset into two separate OSs running on their own chips - one for system-specific software, and the other for user apps.

Another idea - which assumes that mobile cloud computing will be client-based - could be to turn the SIM card into a client. Ajit Jaokar, founder and CEO of publishing company Futuretext, said at a recent SIM summit in Hong Kong that the OMA's Smart Card Web server for SIMs could serve as a cloud client, as it has all the features you'd need for one: complete Web server, a gigabyte of memory, browser-based apps development environment, offline web apps support, access to device APIs and a trusted ecosystem. Even better, it brings cellcos into the device/browser evolution loop and gives them a new value-add opportunity.

Your very own apps stores

Now that Apple's Apps Store has proven a hit with both iPhone users and - more importantly - apps developers, other players are scrambling to build their own. The forces behind Android have created the Android Market, and RIM now has a BlackBerry Store. Microsoft is rumored to be doing likewise with something called 'Skymarket' that could see the light of day in 2009.

Meanwhile, some operators are making their own moves. T-Mobile in the US and O2 in the UK have already announced plans to create and launch apps stores. In essence, it's all about establishing a firm, and branded, foothold in the mobile apps value chain. Both T-Mobile and O2 have said they want a platform to allow developers to create trial and monitor apps for handsets they carry, and give them a place to sell them. Interestingly, O2 is an iPhone retailer as well, while T-Mobile of course has the Android G1 handset - but both want more of their handsets to benefit from an apps-store concept.

Adobe wants the same thing, and will spend a lot of time next year pushing the mobile version of its Air platform that, purportedly, will give handsets a more common platform for apps that Adobe's Flash Lite hasn't quite achieved.

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