10 places to look for mobile’s next killer app

Summary: With the mobile decade upon us, here are 10 categories where mobile’s next killer app may come from. Perhaps one could keep RIM relevant?. E-mail. Tweet.

With many proclaiming the mobile year or decade upon us, largely due to contributing factors like falling costs, better handsets, pervasive connectivity, and emerging standardization it seems we’re upon a new era of mobile development. After receiving some heat, from my Canadian counterparts, for recently berating RIM. I thought I’d be more positive, and present some ideas on where innovation may come from in the mobile application space, this year.

I’m reminded of Jeff Bezos’ quote from 1999:

“I liken it to the Cambrian era 550 million years ago, which saw the development of multicelled life. While nature tried every kind of experiment possible, the creation of new species was offset by the extinction of others.”

Searching for the next killer app
So, as Bezos implies, the explosion in the hundreds of thousands of ‘smartphone’ applications, may imply we’re just at the beginning of finding a killer app. Originally, it was voice, then text messaging, then e-mail; but what’s the next major application that will really spur the next phase of adoption and determine winners and losers?

So, I offer a classification taxonomy of how to think about various application forms, which may help determine where to look and think about what’s next. Rather than take a ‘genre-based’ approach like every other app catalog, or a technology-based organization, I’ve tried to build a framework based on customer needs, or as Clay Christensen would put it, the ‘jobs they do’, for people.

Here are 10 categories of where the next killer app may come from.

1) Communication
The mainstay of mobile so far, this comprises uses such as personal communication (voice, text, e-mail) but also deep & shallow forms of communications from developing ad-hoc networks (e.g. temporal group based on proximity); microcasting media of all forms (e.g. sending text, sound, image, video to Twitter); and let’s not forget the business uses such as web conferencing and virtual tours.

2) Checking status / staying current
This category covers anything that we see today such as scores, weather and stock prices to more innovative examples like “nanny cams”. Essentially this category is anything that connects you to a a quick “check-in” or update.

3) Experience augmentation
Ways to pass the current moment, or enhance the experience you’re having with elements such as casual & social gaming, music, books, or other entertainment related experiences.

4) Extending the desktop / keeping productive while on the go
There is certainly a category of making what you do on the desktop, or other platform, available on the mobile device. While the apps today such as presentations, spreadsheets, notes, and contact management exist, we may see better examples emerge that tie what is done well on one medium with that of another such as Salesforce.com, which allows entry in relevant setting where you would in mobile, but management to happen on the desktop.

5) Activity recording
The ability to capture photos and voice can help play into broader activity recording; however extending that with accelerometers and GPS also enables applications like like NIke+, and other exercise monitors. I’m sure we’re just scratching the surface in these few domains.

6) Device replacement
There are many applications that use the wi-fi, infrared, Bluetooth, sound, and sensing capabilities of the mobile device to replace another mechanical / electrical / electronic device. We’ve seen clocks, alarms, levels, flashlights, tuners, baby monitors, barcode scanners, electronic keyrings, universal remotes, and so many others — where there are many more to come in this category.

7) Contextual query / response (my fave)
One of my favorite categories, these applications look at accessing timely and relevant information based on where you are and what you’re doing (see my earlier post referencing these aspects of Search). From Google Goggles, to augmented reality apps, and even personal concierge type services, I think this category has the most room for really interesting developments when coupled with sensing devices.

‘8) Digital Wallet & Identity
Since the mobile device is this century’s wallet, it naturally lends itself to be a great ID authentication system. We’re already seeing it as a means of providing ticketing via 2-D or audio barcodes, and also (similar to #6) to be your garage door opener or remote car starter. Clearly melding some sort of biometrics in conjunction with the device could activate the correct functionality also.

9) Transaction Execution
As a follow-on to #7 and #8, it seems relevant to execute on on searches and authentication. Here we should see an extension from the classic web-based transactions (e.g. buy a book, make a reservation) to those that access funds from the device itself, akin to NTT DoCoMo’s service in Japan.

10) Utilities & Administration
Certainly with the proliferation of applications and devices we’ll need a way to organize, clean-up, and maintain the health of our devices. These may be tools such as offering “Norton Utilities” functionality, synching files and devices, to anything else that makes categories 1-9 faster or easier.

Summing it all up
I’m sure I’m just barely scratching the surface of what’s possible here; moreover, interesting applications will also come out of hybrids of one or more of these categories. Which innovations will take off will certainly depend on various factors.

Let me know which categories I may have missed, or where you see mobile’s next killer app coming from.

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