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8 Mobile Technologies To Watch

Many of the improvements expected to make an impact in the next two years will soon be integrated into smartphones, research firm Gartner reports.

BlackBerry Storm
(click image for larger view)

BlackBerry Storm

Research firm Gartner unveiled its list of mobile technologies to watch in the next two years, and the list places a heavy emphasis on things that will soon be integrated into smartphones.

The report, entitled "Eight Mobile Technologies To Watch In 2009 And 2010," said Bluetooth 3.0 will have a significant impact. Right now, the majority of consumers use Bluetooth to pair wireless headsets, but the next generation will have higher transfer capabilities and lower power usage. Gartner said this will enable a new class of devices and applications for segments such as health monitoring.

Cellular broadband and the mobile Web will play a large role in the next two years, Gartner said, and carriers have already seen an explosion in traffic with popular devices like Apple's iPhone 3G and the BlackBerry Storm. This trend is expected to continue, as carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile are striving to expand their 3G networks, and Sprint has already begun the rollout of the 4G WiMax network.

With more and more handsets having built-in GPS chipsets, location-based features will become a key component of next-generation applications. Consumers are already seeing elements of this popping up, as shown by the Android app Locale, which senses where a user is and adjusts the ring settings of the phone accordingly. This type of location-centric application will become the norm, Gartner said, but organizations and application creators need to be aware that it could create new privacy and security concerns.

Mobile banking has seen success if places like Japan, but it's still in its infancy in the United States. This is expected to change, and Gartner sees Near Field Communication as a way to get consumers more comfortable with mobile banking and payment. This technology enables a customers to make purchases by swiping their NFC-enabled phone near a special reader, and Nokia has already released a handset that's capable of being used as a mobile wallet.

Most top-of-the-line smartphones in the next few years will have a similar set of features that include cellular broadband, Wi-Fi access, messaging, and Web browsing. This places an increasingly important emphasis on the user interface, Gartner said. Apple's iPhone 3G has been a sales hit partially due to its smooth and visually appealing UI, and competitors will be paying attention to the UI to differentiate handsets. But it's not just about being pretty, as a better interface can make the mobile Web and applications more accessible to consumers.

That improved user interface would also stand out with improved display technology, Gartner said. Handsets like the HTC Touch HD already sport a high-definition resolution, and the research firm said it expects customers to be drawn to better screen technology like pico projectors and passive displays.

But not every mobile technology of note will be directly tied to smartphones, Gartner said. The firm sees 802.11n as a disruptive technology that should be considered by any company equipping new offices or upgrading their wireless networks. While it require new access points, client wireless interfaces, and backbone networks, Gartner sees the investment as prudent because it can enable a truly unwired enterprise.

The 802.11n standard is the first Wi-Fi technology to offer performance on par with 100-Mbps Ethernet, but many questions remain about costs, legacy equipment, and security. InformationWeek examined the risks and benefits of 802.11n for a business, and the report can be found here (registration required).

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