THE apps market might still be dominated by Apple, but that hasn't stopped Google, BlackBerry and Nokia building app stores to try and close the gap.
These new markets, along with the Windows Marketplace, are not only giving users more variety, but are providing developers with a range of new ways to gain revenue and market their apps.
Two years ago the iPhone dominated the applications industry, with the exclusive ability to run and market those apps one of the gadget's main drawing cards. The structure of the App Store, the ability for developers to receive a 70% cut and the lack of any applications market from rival manufacturers gave Apple a head start.
But the tide is turning. Google's Android operating system is quickly gaining market share, Nokia is dominating the handset market and Microsoft recently released a completely new user interface for its Series 7 mobile software to initial market praise.
The popularity of these relatively new stores is growing. The Android Marketplace has over 30,000 apps for sale, providing day-to-day utilities, business tools, social networking and even gaming, and others are catching up.
For users of Android, Nokia, Samsung or Windows mobiles, here are 20 of the best business-based apps and utilities to help you get the most out of your mobile.
Locale – Android
Originally created as an experiment by students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this app is designed for users who are constantly switching their phone into different modes, such as "silent" or "airplane".
The app, which was a grand prize winner in the Android Developer Challenge, lists a number of situations which then trigger certain events. These conditions include whether the battery is unplugged or plugged in, an event on the calendar is triggered, a contact calls, the user's location or whether a certain time arrives.
When one of these conditions is met, the phone can perform certain tasks such as changing its display, turning on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, turning up the volume or even changing the ringtone.
For example, if a user has a board meeting in the same place each week, he or she could use the Locale app to make the handset go into "silent" mode whenever he reaches that location. The app will recognise that location based on GPS coordinates.
It's a complicated app, and takes some time to configure, but is widely regarded as one of the best. As an extra, consider this quip from one of the app's five developers – "Locale wouldn't even be possible on the iPhone".
Office 2010 – Windows
This app is only in beta, but it's a must for any user who depends on the Microsoft Office suite for getting things done.
The suite requires Windows Mobile 6.5 along with a touchscreen phone, but allows creation and editing of documents in Excel, Word, PowerPoint and OneNote. You can also stay connected to a workplace with the SharePoint Workspace program.
The full version will be released this year, but until then this is a satisfactory alternative.
SugarSync – BlackBerry
It's the worst feeling – when you're on the road and suddenly remember that document you forgot to bring on either a phone or USB drive. Thankfully the SugarSync app takes care of this problem by allowing users to keep in touch with their desktop computer at all times.
Users install the app and the corresponding software on their desktop, which allows them to sync at any time. Additionally, the app features an upload ability that moves any photos from the phone to a folder stored on remote servers.
WiFi Toggle – Android
This app is probably one of the most simplistic on the store, but also one of the most useful. The ability to use Wi-Fi on handsets causes many users to switch between 3G connectivity and wireless networks constantly, especially in a home setting – this app makes that process much easier.
WiFi OnOff allows users to toggle their Wi-Fi connectivity with the click of just one button on the home screen, rather than navigating through a number of different settings.
Amazon Kindle – BlackBerry
Why pay for the full device when you can have the app? Despite the BlackBerry having a smaller screen, the Kindle app can deliver a satisfying eBook experience by allowing users to carry thousands of books on the go.
Users can browse the Kindle store and purchase new books, change the font setting and even sync purchased items to other devices, such as an iPhone. It isn't the full experience of an eReader, but it's good enough for users constantly moving around.
Twidroid – Android
This app is widely regarded by many as the best Twitter client for Android-based handsets. Designed by Zimmermann & Marban, the app actually comes in both free and paid versions, but giving a little extra will get you so much more.
The app features multi-account support, two desktop widgets, bit.ly support, the ability to shake the phone to fresh, colour themes and a fairly simple user interface.
All the usual Twitter features appear, such as the ability to make posts, mentions and direct messages. Users can also view user profiles, view threaded messages, follow and un-follow users and receive background notifications.
If you're keen for a good Twitter client, then try out the free version before you move to the paid. But for advanced users, you'll find the extra features are worth the cost.
Opera Browser – Windows
Windows comes with a copy of Internet Explorer but many mobile pundits believe the Opera app to be superior for day-to-day use. The latest version provides a speed dial launch screen, with previews of commonly accessed sites, a password manager, the ability to zoom in on pages, tabbed browsing and a fairly slick user interface.
Flickr – BlackBerry
Handset cameras are becoming more powerful, and more popular. Their increased use has caused developers to create dedicated photo-sharing apps designed to minimise the complexity in taking photos and uploading them to a web portal.
The BlackBerry Flickr app allows users to upload, tag and resize photographs all from within the app itself. Other features include the ability to GeoTag – if your handset has a GPS functionality you can note where each photo was taken.
Adobe Photoshop – Android
The Photoshop image editing software is an industry standard, so plenty of developers and photographers would be pleased to know they can have a smaller, portable version of the program on their phones.
The Android version of Photoshop allows users to edit with some limited tools, but one of the main draw cards is the account syncing ability. If users already have a photoshop.com account they can use the app to access online photos, while you can upload batches to the account to free up storage space.
It isn't the most comprehensive app around, but a good substitute for the desktop equivalent when you're on the run.
Panoramic Launchpad – Windows
This relatively simple app allows users to reorganise their settings, apps, files and folders on two customisable home screens, allowing them to access the more commonly used apps more often.
Other features include the ability to drag, drop and launch programs, easier navigation, six skin colours and the ability to replace the Windows Mobile default Start menu.
Slick Tasks – BlackBerry
Any busy entrepreneur needs a good task manager, and Slick Tasks is probably the best BlackBerry app for the job.
The app lists your tasks in a folder tree, allowing users to organise them in any way they like with LED colours and notifications. It also syncs with the native BlackBerry tasks and calendar applications.
Other features include the ability to add new tasks with a quick-feature, set recurrent tasks, quickly expand or collapse branches and set the BlackBerry device to vibrate whenever a notification is sent from the calendar.
WorldMate – BlackBerry
There are a number of travel apps available for the Android, BlackBerry and Windows mobile operating systems, but WorldMate is possibly the most comprehensive and useful.
The app itself is free, and comes with a clock, weather service, map functions which sync with the app's servers and a currency converter. However, if users upgrade their subscriptions, they can take advantage of flight alerts, meeting reminders, customer support and local directions.
While the app does require some user input on the accompanying website in order to sync itinerary information, overall it's perfect for busy travellers. Users can also keep a schedule of meetings and hotel bookings ready for access.
ServerUp – Android
Perfect for the online entrepreneur. This app allows its users to check the status of a network and various servers, so if your website drops offline, you'll know about it instantly.
The app works over both 3G and Wi-Fi connections, with Ping, Trace Route and WhoIs all supported. Notifications are also sent, with the settings allowing you to receive them as regularly, or infrequently, as you want.
MightyMeeting – Android
If you're giving out PowerPoint presentations too often to remember, then you need MightyMeeting. This app is a cloud-based service that allows users to manage a private library of presentations in several different formats, which can be accessed from any place and at any time with a 3G connection.
The app's search function and navigation options allow you to find the right presentation in the fastest time possible, while working in conjunction with file-sharing apps or Bluetooth can allow users to transfer presentations to laptops or desktops.
Other features include the ability to even publish slides to Facebook or Twitter.
Google Maps – Windows Mobile
This app is a must for any handset. It features Google's typical easy-to-use maps, along with local search functions, while the app also takes advantage of a handset's GPS functions.
Navigation is also included with turn-by-turn directions and real-time traffic reports, along with the typical satellite maps and street view features. Google Maps is part of everyday use for many smartphone owners, but you'd be crazy to leave it out.
Microsoft My Phone – Windows mobile
It's the worst feeling – when your handset suddenly stops working and all those contacts, messages and data are gone. But this app and service allows users to sync all information on the phone to a cloud-based service, where you can access it at any time.
The service, which is free, offers 200MB and can store photos, videos and documents via a fairly snazzy user interface. While it doesn't sync email, phone settings or apps, the lack of a price tag should be attractive enough.
Facebook – Android
The ability to keep up with your social networks on a handset is a norm for most smartphones these days, and the Android OS is no different. The Facebook app allows users to keep in touch by updating their status, upload or take photos in conjunction with the app and receive notifications.
While the app itself isn't necessarily as feature-heavy as the iPhone, many analysts have said it runs much faster, and can even run in the background of other apps.
WaveSecure – Android
This is another Developer Challenge-winning app, which is designed to backup data including contacts, calendar entries, videos, photographs, call logs and text messages to a secured server.
The app also features the ability to link with the official website and delete all data on a user's handset if it falls into the wrong hands. If it's recovered, or a new handset is bought, users simply login and then transfer all information to the new phone.
Another interesting feature is that up to nine of your contacts are sent notifications if anything unusual happens to your phone. If an intruder attempts to change the SIM card, the phone itself locks and cannot be unlocked unless a PIN is entered, which both you and your nine contacts are sent via SMS.
An alarm can also be triggered remotely, while tracking features on the website allow users to follow the phone wherever it goes. Some analysts have noticed a small drop in battery life, but the protection is well worth it.
TetherBerry – BlackBerry
Ever been stuck somewhere with no internet access? Then TetherBerry is the answer to your problems, allowing users to connect the handset to a laptop or desktop computer and share the 3G connection. It mightn't be as fast as a wired connection, but it could save you in a desperate situation.
Shazam – BlackBerry
One of the first apps to hit the iPhone App Store, this little program has taken the smartphone world by storm. Now on the BlackBerry, users hold their phone up to a speaker with music playing, set the app to "tag" and within a few minutes Shazam reveals the name of the song playing.
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