Smartphones becoming prime platform for app makers

Cisco, MySpace, Yahoo extend mobile tools to wide variety of emerging devices

The smartphone is increasingly becoming the platform of choice for a wide variety of application providers. For example, at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona yesterday, Cisco Systems, MySpace and Yahoo all unveiled tools -- a webconferencing application and two social networks, respectively -- for the growing number of smartphones coming from several vendors.

In addition, the GSM Association, which represents some 750 mobile operators, Tuesday joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the conference to announce Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU), a US$12 million effort to provide mobile banking capabilities to the estimated 1 billion people in emerging countries who have a mobile phone but don't have the means to open a traditional bank account.

The rush to develop smartphone applications started with Apple's iPhone, which can now run a variety of applications such as the MySpace social network and the WebEx Meeting Center Web conferencing application from Cisco.

MySpace and Cisco Tuesday widely extended the list of smartphones these applications will support. Cisco said the conferencing application will run on several BlackBerry devices, several Nokia devices and the Samsung Blackjack II starting in April. At the same time, MySpace announced that its social network will soon support the coming Palm Pre smartphone and the Nokia Services 60 Web runtime environment.

MySpace added in a statement that the social network will support all major smartphones by the end of this year, and that half of its users will be accessing MySpace via mobile devices in a few years.

Yahoo Tuesday announced the new Yahoo! Mobile service, a social network that also provides "a highly personalized mobile starting point to the Internet." The new offering runs on the iPhone as well as wireless devices made by Nokia, Research in Motion, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Motorola Inc.

Yahoo! Mobile is now available through a managed beta program and is expected to be generally available in the second quarter.

The Mobile Money for the Unbanked initiative relies on the predominance of mobile phones in areas of the world where a wired infrastructure is now available. The largely untapped consumer banking market in these areas could reach $5 billion in size in three years, according to Rob Conway, CEO of GSMA. The association hopes to have 20 million users of the service by 2012, The first 20 projects will be undertaken in Africa, Asia and Latin America, he added.

Bob Christen, director of financial services for the poor at the Gates Foundation, said that the application will make mobile banking possible for poor people in those regions who cannot afford traditional banking services. Many earn less than $2 a day, he noted in a statement.

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