Apple's iPhone App Store is a huge success, with over 50,000 mobile applications available and more than a billion downloads.
It was the iPhone that sparked an explosion in consumer awareness of mobile applications. New applications are proliferating and "app stores" are springing up. But most of today's applications need handsets with robust computing power, limiting their potential market.
However a new architecture based on software running in the cloud will drastically change the way mobile applications are developed, acquired, and used, according to a new study from ABI Research.
ABI Research's new study "Mobile Cloud Computing" predicts this will be a profoundly disruptive development that could eclipse the current mobile application model by 2014, delivering revenue of nearly $20 billion annually by the end of that year.
"Mobile application developers today face the challenge of multiple mobile operating systems," says senior analyst Mark Beccue.
"Either they must write for just one OS, or create many versions of the same application. More sophisticated apps require significant processing power and memory in the handset.
"Using Web development, applications can run on servers instead of locally, so handset requirements can be greatly reduced and developers can create just one version of an application. This trend is in its infancy today, but ABI Research believes that eventually it will become the prevailing model for mobile applications."
The biggest challenge is intermittent network availability. A cloud-based application stops working if you lose your connection. However new programming languages such as HTML 5 will enable data caching on the handset, allowing work to continue until cellular signal is restored.
"Cloud computing will bring unprecedented sophistication to mobile applications," Beccue notes.
"To mention just a few examples, business users will benefit from collaboration and data sharing apps. Personal users will gain from remote access apps allowing them to monitor home security systems, PCs or DVRs, and from social networking mashups that let them share photos and video or incorporate their phone address books and calendars."