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Smartphones becoming prime platform for app makers

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

February 17, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - 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 today, Cisco Systems Inc., MySpace Inc. and Yahoo Inc. 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, today joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the conference to announce Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU), a $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 Inc.'s iPhone, which can now run a variety of applications such as the MySpace social network and Cisco's WebEx Meeting Center webconferencing application.

MySpace and Cisco today widely extended the list of smartphones their applications will support. Cisco said its webconferencing application will run on several BlackBerry devices, several Nokia devices and the Samsung Blackjack II starting in April. And 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 its 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.

For its part, Yahoo today announced the new Yahoo Mobile service, a social network that's designed to provide "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 Ltd., 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 unavailable. The largely untapped consumer banking market in these areas could reach $5 billion in size in three years, according to Rob Conway, CEO of the 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 in those regions for poor people who cannot afford traditional banking services. Many people in those locales earn less than $2 a day, he noted in a statement.

Read more about Smartphones in Computerworld's Smartphones Topic Center.

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