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Wednesday, March 24, 2010, 04:00 pm PT (07:00 pm ET)

Bluetooth 4.0 among 10 mobile features to watch - Gartner

Gartner Inc has identified ten emerging mobile technologies the firm thinks will be significant to companies over the next year, nearly all of which are iPhone features from two or three years ago.

Bluetooth 3.0, 4.0

The list, detailed in a press release, first highlights Bluetooth 3.0 and 4.0. The upcoming Bluetooth 3.0 broadens the Personal Area Network specification to piggyback on 802.11 WiFi transmissions, which are much faster than Bluetooth's native radio technology.

Apple's iPhone 3.0 introduced a Bluetooth discovery feature that enables developers to set up ad hoc transmissions between iPhone OS devices while still using WiFi or 3G mobile as their primary network gateway. Because the iPhone focuses on USB and WiFi for fast data transfers and does not rely upon many of the features related to Bluetooth (such as wireless direct file transfers or PC sync), it's not clear how quick Apple will be to support the upcoming Bluetooth 3.0 specification.

Also in the pipeline is Bluetooth 4.0, which Gartner reports will "introduce a new low-energy (LE) mode that will enable communication with external peripherals and sensors. Both versions will include other technical improvements to improve battery life and security."

The report adds that "Bluetooth LE will enable a range of new sensor-based business models in industries such as fitness, healthcare and environmental control and will be used by handset and PC peripherals to enable new functions, such as PCs that autolock when users move away from them."

2007 iPhone is the 2010 future

Along with Bluetooth, Gartner's report also draws attention to a series of features Apple debuted on the iPhone in 2007 and 2008, including a real web browser, large touch screens, app widgets, native apps sold through an App Store market, apps with sophisticated GPS location awareness features.

Gartner wrote that "by 2011, over 85 percent of handsets shipped globally will include some form of browser. In mature markets, such as Western Europe and Japan, approximately 60 percent of handsets shipped will be smartphones with sophisticated browsing capability and the ability to render conventional HTML sites in some manner." Apple debuted Mobile Safari as the most sophisticated smartphone web browser back in 2007 on the original iPhone.

Similarly, Gartner channeled the iPhone's past by noting "touchscreens are emerging as the dominant user interface for large-screen handsets, and will be included in over 60 percent of mobile devices shipped in Western Europe and North America in 2011. Touch-enabled devices will also make increasing use of techniques such as haptics to enhance user experience. Organizations developing native handset applications may need to exploit single and multitouch interfaces and haptics to give their applications a compelling and competitive user experience."

Gartner also highlighted the usefulness of third party apps under the name widgets, saying they "are installable Web applications that use technologies such as JavaScript and HTML." The report also mentioned "app stores," saying they "will be the primary (and, in some cases, the only) way to distribute applications to smartphones and other mobile devices," as if Apple hadn't already delivered this two years ago in a way that no other platform vendor has since even been able to copy.

GPS is also an iPhone feature Garnet sees as a future technology. "By the end of 2011, over 75 percent of devices shipped in mature markets will include a GPS. GPS will be the primary, but not the only, means of establishing handset location. Wi-Fi and cell ID systems will remain important in situations where GPS is unavailable or unreliable."

Completing a top ten list

In addition to describing futuristic features pioneered two or three years ago by the iPhone, Gartner also filled out its top ten list of emerging mobile technologies by mentioning "platform independent app development tools," advances in cellular broadband, M2M, and device independent security.

In line with the company's prediction last fall that Android and Windows Mobile would explode in popularity by 2012, the iPhone would remain stagnant, and RIM's BlackBerry would rapidly decline to the point where it was eclipsed by Palm's webOS, Gartner's latest report indicates that multiple third party software platforms would coexist, necessitating some sort of lowest common denominator platform to make it easier for developers to roll out their apps across all these platforms.

"Mobile platforms will become more diverse through 2012 although consolidation will not have started, and, in some markets, five or more platforms may have a significant presence," Gartner predicts. "Therefore, tools that can reduce the burden of delivering installable applications to several platforms will be very attractive. Platform-independent application development (AD) tools cannot deliver a 'write once, run anywhere' equivalent to native code; however, they can significantly reduce the cost of delivering and supporting multiplatform applications that provide a more sophisticated experience than the mobile Web and operate outside signal coverage."

In reality, the only real mobile development happening now is centered around the iPhone OS, with Microsoft having terminated Windows Mobile entirely in its efforts to launch the entirely new Windows Phone 7 platform, webOS on its deathbed, and Android still failing to catch up to a fraction of the scale and variety of apps available for the iPhone. There simply aren't broad efforts to deliver most mobile apps for every phone platform.

Gartner also announced that "during 2010 and 2011, the availability of multimegabit wireless broadband performance will continue to grow as mobile networks enhance their broadband performance," and highlights that "many network service providers increased their commitment to machine to machine (M2M) in 2009, so a good range of both national and multinational M2M service options will be available in mature markets during 2010 and 2011. […] Low-cost M2M modules will enable a wide range of new networked devices and business models. Key applications include smart grid, meter reading, security/surveillance, automotive systems, vending and point of sale, remote monitoring, and track and trace."

Finally, Gartner says that "Device-Independent Security" will "enable the provisioning of applications that are secure, but less tightly tied to specific devices and platforms, and that, in many cases, do not require security tools to be installed on the client. It includes thin-client architectures, applications as a service, platform-independent forms of network access control (NAC), portable personality, virtualization, and hosted security services, such as 'in the cloud' virus scanning. Device-independent tools cannot provide the rigor of fully installed security, but a blend of several of these tools can enable CIOs to deliver applications that can run on a wider range of devices while reducing security risks."