Mobile Small Business Trends for 2012 - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell
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Is 2012 the Year of the App?

The increasing ease-of-use of maturing mobile apps is, in fact, one of "the key building blocks" that will make 2012 a "breakout year for apps" in the business world, Tauschek said.

Part of that comes from mainstream software developers paying increased attention to mobile. Some now design or upgrade applications from the ground up with mobile in mind. "Mobile is now the first design point for a lot of vendors," McCabe said.

Part of it, too, is that many developers have realized they don't have to put everything-but-the-kitchen-sink into their mobile apps. Some are producing multiple apps with bite-size chunks of functionality.

SAP, a small-medium enterprise ERP vendor, is the most obvious case in point. SAP offers many mobile apps, including some as specific as one for capturing travel receipts and sending the data back to SAP servers.

"They've made very elegant interfaces," McCabe said of the mature mobile business apps now appearing. "And they've given users only what they need, without cluttering [the app] up with [all the functionality] of a full-fledged Web client."

Not every small business will adopt applications as sophisticated as SAP in 2012, but Tauschek says the year will see more mainstream business apps such as Dropbox and Boxnet -- two companies that provide mobile access to online file storage and synchronization services -- "increasingly permeate small businesses."

Accessing the Mobile Cloud

Increased adoption of cloud services and applications (like Dropbox and Boxnet) is another mobile trend to watch in 2012, Tauschek believes. But it goes beyond online storage, already a well established mobile cloud app.

Lots of other cloud-based mobile apps are already available, including two from cloud pioneer SalesForce.com. These include the company's flagship CRM application and its Chatter collaboration tool. More will come, Tauschek said.

One game-changer is Apple's Siri, an artificial intelligence- and speech recognition-based "personal Web assistant" that will help iPhone users perform all kinds of functions, including finding stuff on the Web -- thus challenging Google's search engine.

The key to Siri's power, Tauschek said, is that it leverages ubiquitous broadband wireless capacity to access sophisticated capabilities residing on Apple Web servers rather than relying only on program code on the device.

Siri is so far available on the latest iPhone 4S model, but is expected eventually to be available on other iPhones and possibly the iPad.

Mobile Intelligence

Siri is an exemplar of another trend to watch: artificial intelligence (AI) built into mobile devices. Tauschek admitted it's hard to predict the impact of increased use of AI, a loosely defined set of capabilities that allow computer systems to learn and automatically adapt to circumstances and users.

"Think about this from the small business perspective," Tauschek suggested. "If you can turn your smart phone or tablet into a truly intelligent personal assistant, how will that improve all your touch points with clients?"

Android Ascendant

Apple may still have disproportionate mind share, but Google's Android mobile platform is on the rise, Tauschek said. 

"In the tablet market especially, the iPad has really been the only game in town," he said. "But that's changing. And while it might seem to be changing slowly, it's actually happening quite rapidly now. You have to remember that everything [in the Android world] is lagging about year-and-a-half behind Apple." 

With the rapid expansion of the number of available Android apps, and the fact that the latest version of the Android operating system works equally well on smartphones and tablets – as does Apple's iOS -- Google's mobile platform is finally catching up. 

That may make it more attractive to small businesses, but it cuts two ways, Tauschek said. The fact that apps available in the Android Market are not vetted by Google or anyone else -- unlike apps in the Apple App Store which must all pass stringent vetting by Apple -- means security of Android apps could be a concern, he cautioned.

The Year Ahead

What else will 2012 bring? McCabe believes small businesses -- and businesses of all sizes -- will start to make more use of text messaging. Many customers may not want to receive unsolicited marketing messages via text, she said, but they might welcome alerts and other kinds of messages. 

And she expects to see cross-platform services emerge to simplify data backup, recovery and security on both mobile devices and laptops and desktop computers. 

And 2012 could mark the beginning of a consolidation phase in the mobile industry, which may or may not affect small businesses. AT&T is making a play for T-Mobile, for example. There have been rumors of various suitors for ailing Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry.

RIM's declining fortunes may be a cause for concern among enterprises that invested heavily in inhouse BlackBerry Enterprise Servers (BES), Tauschek said. But small businesses that use the Web-based BlackBerry solution need not worry. If they're nervous and want to jump ship, they can do so with minimal disruption, he said.

Will 2012 be a breakout year for mobile in small business? We think so. The sheer mass of devices -- those purchased by companies and the personal tablets and smartphones that employees bring to work -- create opportunities just too important to ignore.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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This article was originally published on January 04, 2012
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