iPhone and similar devices are driving wider takeup of mobile applications
Where email has been the "killer application" for mobile data for several years now, epitomised by the BlackBerry, I've noticed a real enthusiasm for mobile applications in recent months. Whilst many handsets come equipped with a range of features and data capabilities, the user interface and easily accessed features of the iPhone have transformed its use. When combined with data tariffs which mean there is no additional cost for using them, takeup and usage has increased dramatically.
iPhones have exceeded 500 million application downloads already. Whilst many of these are free of charge, the very low priced applications have made their creators a fortune.
The Application Platform is the greatest success
Many industry experts have tried to predict the types of services and applications which would be most popular. A large number of small companies and come and gone, investing in a wide variety of potentially lucrative new services. Few have been dramatically successful, perhaps because of issues such as the divergence of phone models, screen sizes, operating systems etc.
The iPhone has created a platform on which application developers can focus. No doubt, Google (and Nokia) are aiming to achieve the same goal.
This is why we have seen tremendous interest in the "AppStore", an online digital marketplace for buy and sell mobile device applications.
What applications could be relevant?
I quite like the recent demonstration announced by Ubiquisys and Mobica , probably because it fits my own lifestyle. I often listen to podcasts on my way to work, and take pictures with my camera. Whilst I could upload/refresh these over mobile broadband, it actually makes more sense to do this when I'm at home - particularly where these types of files can be 10's of megabytes in size. It's awkward to have to plug in my phone via USB cable, startup applications and manually drag and drop files across. I know that iPod's and other MP3 devices can do this synchronisation automatically when just dropped into their charging cradle (assuming your PC is switched on), but I still see an opportunity here.
How can the industry stimulate and create relevant applications?
By creating a standard platform that is easily accessible to developers, operators can engage the power of creativity of a much larger community. This could be done quite easily if limited to specific models of handsets, such as the iPhone. But this would restrict benefits to a relatively small niche of users (and operators).
I don't know what the most popular or likely femtocell specific application would be, but I think we'll see a few more innovative ideas appear in the coming months.