Mobile Apps To Watch: It Comes Down To 10 Categories, Gaming Not Included

Apple App Store categories tab

The other week, Gartner projected that mobile apps would generate revenues of $15.9 billion in 2012; now they’ve drilled down into that number to tell us just what kinds of apps will do best. The list of what Gartner thinks will do well isn’t too surprising, but what is possibly moreso is what the analysts leave out.

Gartner’s compiled a top-10 list of categories of consumer mobile apps that it believes will bring in the money in apps longer term. The list is not too far from the kinds of services that are getting attention today:

1. Location-based services (LBSs). This is a key one for the mobile channel compared to other mediums like TV or PCs. The number of services that function based on a user’s location (eg Foursquare, Google’s Latitude and the many mapping apps) will only grow. Gartner believes that by 2014 there will be 1.4 billion people using LBS.

2. Social networking. Again, already a hugely popular service category for mobile, one that is huge both among feature phone as well as smartphone users. Gartner says it is the fastest-growing of all the app categories that it tracks, and part of the reason it’s growing so much is because of how the idea of “social” is permeating so many of the other categories (think here of sharing location info on services like Gowalla); and their role as portals to other kinds of content (think of Facebook as a repository to share photos or videos, or play games — although the latter are not yet available on mobile).

3. Mobile search. Gartner says the next step in search will be about integrating other phone actions in with the results — that is, more services like the Click-to-Call option that Google (NSDQ: GOOG) gives advertisers for mobile search results.

4. Mobile commerce.

5. Mobile payment. This one’s been a slow burner for years now. But the spate of NFC initiatives, and the many apps that let people navigate to making purchases (such as Amazon’s), apps that integrate the mobile with the bricks-and-mortar experience (eg Shopkick) could see this finally becoming something significant. Groupon’s step up in mobile, bringing the “deals” trend to the table, will contribute to that, too. Gartner doesn’t think NFC will become mainstream until 2015.

6. Context-aware service.

7. Object recognition. Think Google Goggles and augmented reality services like Layar’s.

8. Mobile Instant messaging (MIM). These services have already become established in their own right, but Gartner believes those that integrate with other apps will be the ones to grow.

9. Mobile e-mail. Gartner expects there to be 713 million mobile email users by 2014, equating to 10.6 percent of the global mobile user base, compared to 354 million in 2009.

10. Mobile video. There have been some remarkable duds in the mobile video space such as FloTV from Qualcomm (NSDQ: QCOM). But there have also been some big successes. Google says that YouTube users currently spend 20 minutes on the site when they access it on mobile — a figure that is rising. The biggest force in the growth of mobile video will likely be the growth of faster smartphones with better screens, and tablets.

What hardly gets a mention — only one in passing — is the gaming category. Surprising, considering that currently the top-selling apps and the top free apps in Apple’s App Store are… all games.

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