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So much more on your mobile

This year has seen a free run in mobile services such as the BlackBerry. The app market too has exploded with Apple, Google, Nokia and the others going in for the kill. About time you caught on?

india Updated: Dec 26, 2010 16:46 IST

While you were checking out newer ways to make your phone cooler through software add-ons this year, push email snaked its way through to smartphones.

However, smartphones’ biggest propellant has been social networking apps like Facebook and Twitter. The first generation of Facebook for the iPhone wasn’t even a program; users had to visit iphone.facebook.com on the mobile browser to access a customised version of the site. The revolution took place when Apple launched its AppStore and allowed third-party developers to create their own apps. Google and BlackBerry shortly followed suit with their own versions. Before this, users were mostly tech-enthusiasts or corporates who needed mission-specific software.

Today, mobile apps are largely fuelled by the massive processing power available in modern devices. Handsets like the Apple iPhone 4, Nokia N8 and Google Nexus S, are almost as powerful as the laptops of yore.

Entertainment
Games are a great way to showcase what such phones are capable of. It’s no surprise then than game publisher Electronic Arts has its own mobile division pushing out latest releases such as Need For Speed, Hot Pursuit and Fifa ‘11 at the same time as on other platforms like the PC, PS3 and XBOX 360.

But it’s not all about games. There are apps for enhancing the photos you take. Some add vignettes, other emulate the effects of a variety of old-school films and lenses. “I love the Polaroid effect of the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone 4. It’s much more interesting than taking boring old snaps with a standard digicam,” mentions ad executive Karl Bharucha (28).

Apps are becoming such a popular phenomenon that those who aren’t on the bandwagon are missing out. Amazon and eBay have mobile apps that let you buy and ship stuff straight to your doorstep without ever visiting the computer screen. Music bands too are making their presence felt on the mobile front. Along with a band website, official Twitter account, Facebook and MySpace pages, many are developing their own mobile apps that offer the latest news, photos, videos, and sample songs. Indian folk band Swarathma, for instance, is the first desi band to have its own app on the iPhone. “We wanted to push boundaries and were excited by the opportunity of engaging with fans in a new way. Smartphones are where everything is moving to, and we wanted to be there,” says the bassist, Jishnu Dasgupta.

BlackBerry on top
As far as mobile phone services go, BlackBerry still rules the roost. The fact that the cheapest BlackBerry is as good as the flagship one says a lot about the brand’s strategy. In the entry-level Curve, you get push email, Internet (depending on the plan), applications and BB messenger. Higher-end BlackBerrys like the Torch 9800 have better screens, cameras, video recording and 3G but the core services are identical.

But BlackBerry seems to have a clear edge over the other handsets due to the BB messenger, and that is one reason why people have switched over to it.

“BlackBerry devices have become extremely popular in the smartphone category and account for four out of every 10 handsets sold at The Mobile Store," says Moin Mushtaque, vice president, Essar Telecom Retail Limited. Another reason is peer pressure. UK-based animation student Stuti Guha (23) recently shifted loyalties since most of her colleagues use the BB messenger service, and it helps her keep in touch with them. “The BBM is really helpful in places where texts are expensive to send. Plus, I’d always be missing out on my friends’ group chat before I got a BlackBerry,” she says.

Also causing the drift is that some users on other platforms aren’t as happy with the apps offered. For Nokia user Aashray Hariharan, a Newsweek application was indispensable, but he just couldn’t find it for his phone. “I got all the insignificant news apps but none that I required. Sure, social networking apps come preloaded, but what if I don’t use them?” he says.

However, Hariharan wouldn’t budge from his Nokia as it offers him everything else. “I get push email, a few applications, messengers, etc. Sure the BBM is cool and everyone uses it, but it’s nothing you can’t do without,” he says.

Popular apps
Apple iOS
Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Twitter, Facebook, Evernote
Android
Google Voice, Task Killer, Docs To Go, Shazam, Dropbox
BlackBerry
Dictionary and Thesaurus, Time Magazine, Chat for Facebook, WhatsApp Messenger, DriveSafely
Symbian
Fring, JoikuSpot Light, Ovi Maps, Qik Video Player, TweetS60 Lite

BB usage plans
Real money saver?
In terms of costs, while some users feel that carriers offer cheaper plans for the BlackBerry (BB), others opine the overall cost at the time of billing adds up to more. Production manager Anuja Sharma switched over to the BB from Nokia to utilise the BBM, and has managed to bring her overall bill down by approximately Rs 600.

“My friends and colleagues use the BBM service, and now chatting with them has become cheap. My plan includes surfing costs, so I don’t pay anything extra for that.” However, ad executive Puneet Gandhi uses the net more to surf than check email, and his Nokia smartphone gets him a better deal. “I pay about Rs 199 to surf the Internet and chat, and my overall net usage goes up to Rs 300 per month only,” he says.

Android apps
The next big thing?
Google was the second to launch its Android Market in August 2008 and has seen a steady growth through this year. As of December 2009, there were 2,000 apps available. There are over 1 lakh apps available now. Amongst all platforms, Android has the highest percentage of free apps according to a report this July by Distomo. It seems highly probable that the market will overtake Apple’s AppStore next year to become the biggest mobile app marketplace.