Smartphone Operating Systems, Part 2: Change Is in the Air
Developers of applications for smartphones are finding the ground shifting under their feet. With the iPhone App Store set to launch, the line is blurring between business and consumer smartphones. Future phones are likely to be highly customizable.
06/20/08 4:00 AM PT
Part 1 of this two-part series looked at the variety of smartphone operating systems from a user's perspective. Part 2 covers the changes developers face.
As smartphones change, so does the landscape for developers of applications for these devices. As phones, particularly the iPhone, become more application-friendly, the marketplace is at once more competitive and more inviting to third-party application developers.
Third-party applications, according to Robert Gaines, technology marketing manager for All Covered, will continue to be developed according to the needs of business people and consumers.
"Anything that will enhance the ability of a business to get more done will grow," Gaines told TechNewsWorld.
He sees businesses and consumers looking for specific functions that will help them do their business. Real estate agents, for instance, like to be able to browse real estate listings, whereas lawyers want to be able to access case archives.
"It's those kind of productivity applications that people are looking for," Gaines told TechNewsWorld. "People are really looking for what it does. What they really want to know is what can this do for me."
The Doctor Is In
Epocrates, for instance, develops applications for doctors and other healthcare providers to check drug prescribing information, drug interactions, insurance company formularies, symptoms, and other information. Launched in 1999, Epocrates has several applications, from several free, basic services to more premium ones. The idea behind Epocrates' products is that doctors need quick and easy access to information, and there's no better way to deliver that information than through their smartphones and other mobile devices.
"Physicians are mobile, so they need information at their fingertips," Michelle Snyder, Epocrates' vice president of marketing and subscription sales, told TechNewsWorld.
Worldwide, more than 500,000 healthcare professionals use Epocrates' applications, including more than 200,000 physicians in the United States. Epocrates' applications can be used on most smartphone operating systems, including Palm, Pocket PC, Windows Mobile and -- once its App Store is online -- the iPhone. In fact, Epocrates was one of five application developers highlighted by Apple when it announced the upcoming application marketplace.
"We're definitely excited about the iPhone," Snyder told TechNewsWorld.
The multimedia capabilities of the iPhone operating system will also allow Epocrates to have functions that aren't available on its other smartphone products, including a pill identifier, which will let users search for pill characteristics and photos.
"We are going to have functions available on the iPhone, because of its memory and multimedia capabilities, that aren't available on other operating systems," Snyder told TechNewsWorld.
Just for Fun
In addition to applications for business and productivity, there are many applications just for fun, from Sudoku and Texas Hold'em games to applications that let users change the color of their trackballs. Some applications, like those that use new GPS technologies, are both practical and entertaining.
"I think GPS is going to be big," Robert Lee Harris, president of Communications Advantage, an independent consulting company in the Los Angeles area, told TechNewsWorld. He says that he sees those applications that allow for the linkage between GPS and social functions like chatting and identifying the location of friends to be particularly promising. "I think people will not use it to stop and go for a coffee. They'll like it for the novelty of it."
As smartphone operating systems evolve and change, it's no longer easy to separate out the "business phones" from the "entertainment phones." As people shape their smartphones according to what applications they use, these categories are gradually eroding.
"BlackBerry has traditionally been a very business-oriented device, with its focus on e-mail," Melanie Angermann, vice president of marketing for Handango, a multichannel retailer of smartphone content, told TechNewsWorld. "But with Pearl and Curve, they're attracting a younger and more female audience. It's no longer just productivity that people are looking for [on their phones], but also television and watching videos."
New Delivery Systems
As the prices of these devices drops, the smartphone audience is becoming more mainstream, Angermann said. To accommodate this new and growing audience, Handango is developing new ways of delivering third-party applications to consumers. The company is working on a plan, for instance, to sell bundles of applications on SD cards that people can purchase along with their phones.
"As we move from early adopters into a more mainstream world, that really opened the door to a mainstream customer," Angermann told TechNewsWorld. "But they are less technically savvy."
The SD cards will make third-party applications more accessible to a mainstream audience, since consumers won't need to worry about downloading and installing them.
The market for third-party smartphone applications will continue to rise as the popularity of these devices themselves rises, according to Angermann.
"If you look at the macrotrends, [the use of smartphone applications] is just projected to skyrocket," Angermann told TechNewsWorld. "It's really a new world. It's no longer just e-mail."