By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 29 July 2010

At this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the biggest mobile event in the world, the spotlight was on mobile applications and online application stores as opposed to the usual announcements of new phone models. “This shows suppliers are focusing more on to the experience the phone brings and what users can do with it as opposed to the device itself,” says Deon Liebenberg, regional director for sub-Saharan Africa at BlackBerry smartphone maker Research In Motion in South Africa.

He says the latest buzz is about super applications that change the way users works and play, enhance their lifestyle and integrate with other applications on the phone to provide a seamless experience as users move from one application to another. Applications are now available that will tailor information to users’ needs, depending on criteria such as their location, availability status and how they want it to be presented.

If the user is travelling, they will change the time zone on the phone, check if flights are still on schedule and report any delays. “These applications will sit in the background and provide users with the appropriate information when they need it,” says Liebenberg.

Super applications constantly monitor users’ location, push concise information to them proactively when they need it based on their current situation, and allow them to request more detail if they need it. They run faster, are always on, and are reliable, even when the mobile networks are busy.

“It is all about just in time information,” says Liebenberg. He says applications have to be good to for users to continue to use them, and this is borne out by research that shows 99% of all applications downloaded are discarded or ignored after four weeks.

Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, says enlightened mobile users want to be able to download applications that enrich their lives and suit their specific needs and some developers are responding to this demand. For example, users of instant messaging application Mixit, which is cheaper than SMS and is geared to the younger generation, now offers information channels on topics such as drug rehabilitation, and even has a trading post feature for buying and selling items.

“What is happening with Mixit is an indication of the future of instant messaging applications that will kill SMS,” says Goldstuck. An increasing number of applications can now be downloaded to mobile phones that take users directly to their favourite websites, like Twitter, Facebook Mobile, and news services without having to waste time loading a browser first.

This makes it easier for users and they are less likely to move to another application that provides similar functionality. Many World Cup applications were also available for download during the event. “Specific applications like these far outpace browsing on the phone,” says Goldstuck.

He says those using social networks will be influenced by their peer groups when deciding what applications to download. Another trend is that companies are setting up specific mobile websites, including newspapers and magazines, which are now directing readers to their mobile sites in their publications.
“This will build a closer relationship between publications and mobile device users,” says Goldstuck. He says as smartphones become smarter more people will use them as a preferred internet device.

According to the World Wide Worx Mobile Internet in South Africa 2010 report, 60% of mobile users in urban areas have phones that are capable of browsing the internet, but only 21% of them actually do it. “The balance either don’t know how to use it or don’t want to do it, or don’t do it because of cost concerns, or perhaps because the screen is too small.”

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