Looking back on 2011, it may be remembered as The Year Of Mobile. Sure, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and all the other platforms existed in previous years but historians will look back at 2011 and say that it was the year that the way an entire populace interacts with information fundamentally changed. Mobile is not just for the early adopters anymore. Smartphones are everywhere.
What made waves in the mobile realm this year? We take a look in our third installment of ReadWriteWeb's top products of the year. Our founder Richard MacManus kicked us off with social products and Jon Mitchell took a look at web-based consumer products. To make the mobile list, a product had to be built to fundamentally work inside mobile platforms, hence the platforms themselves (iOS, Android flavors etc.) do not make the list. Take a look at our list below and let us know what we may have missed in the comments.
To understand Square is to fundamentally understand the changing nature of money as information and the ability to turn money into digital bits that can be transferred anywhere without the use of hard currency. The example we like to use at ReadWriteWeb is the ability to pay at your local farmer's market or in a taxicab. With its dongle reader, Square aims to make mobile payment transactions a ubiquitous and accepted activity. The company did not rest on its laurels this year though. It cannot, especially with so much competition in the mobile payments dongle space from companies like Intuit, Verifone and Erply among others.
This year, Square introduced the concept of Amazon-style one-click buying to real world merchants with the Square Card Case. It also turned the iPad into a point-of-sale terminal with Square Register. Square updated its app to be speedier and more efficient and the Card Case evolved to the point where it is more or less like having an open tab at your favorite retailer tied to your bank account. Pain points at the point of sale? That is what Square is trying to alleviate and it took great strides this year to that end. Square also went to the 2.75% flat fee on transactions, lowering the industry standard and forcing every one else in the ecosystem to play catch up. It has been a good 12 months for Square overall, starting the year with a big round of funding in January and iterating and refining the product throughout the year. That is a far cry from the hiccups of 2010 when dongles did not work with the iPhone 4 and the company was embroiled in a lawsuit. The opportunity for increased success for Square rests in the company's own hands.
2. Nuance & Swype
Dragon Speech SDK can be dropped into almost any iOS or Android application to take advantage of speech-to-text capabilities. What Siri did with that technology was then tie it to a search engine and give it a personality that can talk back. What Nuance is doing is working on new and exciting ways for users to interact with the input methods on mobile devices. Nuance is working with app developers to create and entirely new breed of application that is speech aware and reactive. The company is working with mobile developers through its mobile developer program and we have seen some of the fruits of its labor in the area already.Apple brought you Siri, the virtual assistant inside the iPhone 4S. Yet, Nuance is a leader in the field with its innovative and speech-to-text functionality and ability to understand various languages and dialects. The
friendly relationship with Apple could eventually bring Swype to the iPhone. When Siri was announced by Apple for the iPhone 4S, our Marshall Kirkpatrick lamented that it should have been Swype. If you have not used Swype, it is a keyboard input method where you keep your finger on the touch screen and input letters by moving to them. If you are a Swype user that has that capability taken from you (by getting a device that does not use Swype), it is definitely missed.Nuance also made another large splash this year by acquiring Swype, one of the biggest third-party touchscreen keyboard input methods on mobile devices today. Swype has been downloaded over 50 million times to Android and Symbian devices. When Nuance bought Swype, we wondered if the company's
3. Facebook Mobile + Messenger
350 million people have accessed Facebook through mobile devices across the world. That, to put it mildly, it outrageous. Facebook Mobile continues to evolve as well. One significant subplot to much of the news in mobile development circles this year would be how and where Facebook would move and if it was coming to come out with an HTML5-based mobile Web app store. We have since found that is not going to be true but Facebook does have some big mobile projects cooking around bringing its app ecosystem to mobile. There will just be no specific app store as Facebook believes users will create viral apps by sharing them along the social graph. Facebook's mobile strategy lays within those two elements -- the Web browser and the open social graph. Every thing that the company does is influenced by those two guiding factors, mobile is no different. Facebook also came out with an iPad app this year, which is essentially a mobile Web-based application wrapped up neatly to use the native capabilities of the iPad through iOS. We studied this year at length how Facebook mobile was designed to write once, run everywhere and how HTML5 is the future of the how Facebook interacts with the mobile Web.It is very difficult to ignore the most used mobile app in the world. Approximately
Messenger application this year, a stand alone product from the normal Facebook app. Really, if Facebook had not acquired group messaging service Beluga this year, that company would have probably found its way on to this list. The Messenger app further cements Facebook's status as not just a place to share ideas or thoughts, but as a true communications platform that can be accessed from anywhere at anytime. Facebook Mobile is only going to grow in 2012 and we will begin to see some of the ways the company is fundamentally changing the applications, sharing and communications through mobile devices. Facebook has put the argument of Web apps vs. native apps front and center on all mobile developers minds, something that was not true a year ago.Facebook also released its
4. Google Wallet
Google Wallets. We often say that Google is a company that is always in beta and the Wallet program is no exception. NFC technology may eventually have the type of ubiquity to completely change the payments industry but at this point the major in payments are still testing the idea or toying with various implementations, like Coke machines. It will take a while before the Google Wallet project is spread far and wide and a lot of that has to do with its current constriction of partners. You have to be a very specific person (use CitiBank, have a MasterCard and be a Sprint customer with a Nexus Android smartphone) to use the NFC capabilities of Wallet at this point, but those partnerships will lose exclusivity by the end of 2011.There has been nothing that has done more to bring near field communications (NFC) payments into the mainstream mind share this year more than
a significant source of debate this year in mobile circles. Some see it as the greatest thing to happen since touchscreen devices while others are not convinced. Google Wallet is near the center of that debate and anything that can cause that amount of conversation among different industries such as technology and the financial sectors deserves a spot in the top mobile products of the year.NFC adoption, or the lack thereof, has been
5. Angry Birds
Mobile developers are leading the field in application development for any kind of computing system. They are pushing the bounds of what can be done with computing, on smaller processors with smaller screen sizes and graphics rendering. Within the realm of mobile developers, mobile game developers are the ones truly leading the charge. Other developers have seen the type of success that Rovio has had with Angry Birds and it has started a bit of a gold rush to create the newest viral sensation. Cut The Rope, Tiny Towers and Infinity Blade (I and II) are examples of successful mobile games as well.
Chrome browser and the Chromebook, opened a bank, toyed with the idea of NFC and partnered with Nexage to monetize all of those flying fowl. Rovio also came up with a bit of Magic at the ReadWriteWeb 2Way Summit and soon there may be Angry Birds everywhere.Angry Birds is not just some one hit wonder though. It came to the
We debated long and hard what reader app we wanted to be part of this list. Zite was up for consideration, as was Flipboard and News.me, Newsy, Showyou, Qwiki and Feedly. The reason that Pulse beat them all out is the fact that it is the only truly cross-platform reader that brings its full user interface, fully intact, to iOS, Android smartphones and tablets including the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Kindle Fire as well as Windows Phone 7. When looking for an app that fits our definition of what we were looking for in a mobile product (built off the specific mobile platforms or of the mobile Web), Pulse was one to truly stand out.
an Instagram/Read It Later like function for personal archives, Pulse Connect, a self-service publishing tool. It was named to Apple's App Store Hall of Fame and was an Android Market Editor's choice. To be fair, several other apps in this list and others that we have covered through the year also have those particular distinctions. Pulse expects to have 10 million users by the end of the year, after starting 2011 with about one million.The Pulse reader works by bringing in feeds from a variety of sources and laying it out in a dynamic UI with horizontally scrolling tiles. During the year it expanded to Pulse.me,
7. Google+ For Android
social network that it released in late June. We got access the day it came out and the consensus among the ReadWriteWeb staff then (and now) is that Google+ is pretty cool and very useful. Google did not lag on publishing an Android application for Google+, which was available the same day as the browser-platform. Google+ is one of the rare Web-based products that I was actually introduced to from a mobile first perspective and everything that needs to be there is present and accounted from. It has its own messenger program (called Huddle when it first launched and now just Messenger), the news stream, profile editing and, the most important of all, photos.Google took its time and created a dynamic
instant uploads its killer feature. We also compared the Google+ app to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and found that while each platform has its strengths, Google+ for Android stood out amongst the pack.The photo sharing capabilities of Google+ for Android are what set the application apart from almost any other photo sharing service on the Web. The genius behind photos with the app is that photos are individually loaded to a personal cloud in Google+ (and can be accessed through the Web version of Picasa) without the need of the user to manually upload them. This capability does freak some people out but it can be turned off easily in the app's settings. Photos can also be individually uploaded, up to eight at once. That is about seven more than Twitter and Facebook can do. When Google+ rolled out, we called
8. FoursquareWhen it comes to location services on mobile devices, Foursquare is at the top of the ecosystem. With around 15 million users, it is far and away the leader in the "check-in" social location system that has seen Gowalla disappear and SCVNGR growth stall. Would-be location and photo sharing app Color pivoted away from implicit social connections and is now an iOS and Android app built on Facebook's platform. Facebook has been fostering implicit social connections and gaining data from that, but two photo sharing services rumored in June never came to pass, at least not this year. Meanwhile, Foursquare, armed with a large new round of funding, continues to iterate and come out with new products, user interfaces and aspects of the platform.
Foursquare redesigned its website in November, turning it from sparse to useful. The platform is tinkering with using NFC to check-in's to local merchants and partnered with Groupon to bring deals and offers to local shoppers. There have been so many tweaks to the Foursquare platform this year that it is hard to list them all in one place. It now has real-time notifications and hackers have been working on the Foursquare API to create some interesting tools, like 4sqwifi and Foursquare, Poorsquare. It released its Push API in September and expanded to checking into things like movies and events. Say what you want about the validity of the Foursquare platform in the long run, the company continues to create new products that have utility to users on every mobile platform.
9. Opera Mobile
There has been an explosion in third-party mobile browsers this year, but if we are to only choose one, Opera takes the cake. In consideration were also Dolphin HD, Bolt, Skyfire and Firefox. The only two on that list that are free on both Android and iOS though are Dolphin and Opera and in a race between the two, Opera wins for its versatility, ubiquity, speed, cloud connections, sharing connections and the ability to sync between the desktop and mobile browser. It also has the fastest iteration cycle of all the mobile browsers, pushing out updates at Mozilla-like paces.
functionality to the cloud to save users' data connections when browsing the mobile Web. Opera is also one of the best third-party browsers, especially on Android, to run HTML5 Web-apps. Firefox also has good HTML5 integration and rendering but for most of 2011, the Firefox browser for Android has been bug-prone and terrible to use. Opera, as it is known to do, zips right along in comparison.Opera, like some of the other mobile browsers, tied its
DroidDream early in the year and has risen to unbelievable levels throughout the year. Most users will be safe if they follow some common sense security rules. One of those rules is to make sure you have a security app on your Android device and if you are to pick one of the several choices, Lookout is one of the best. It has safe browsing capabilities for the mobile Web, protects users by not only scanning apps as they are downloaded, but scanning the app store itself and ties all the functionality to its servers in the cloud. Lookout even had the audacity to put out a security-style app for iOS.In many aspects, 2011 has been the Year of Mobile Malware. More precisely, Android malware. It started with
Lookout does mobile first and that gives it a bit of a leg up on the competition. It understands mobile and the dynamic that apps live in better than any other security company. Bitdefender released an Android security app recently that compares favorably, but Lookout has been doing it nearly all year. In addition to scanning apps for malware and permissions, Lookout also has a privacy advisor, backup capabilities and the ability to find a missing device. When it comes to stand alone mobile security outside of common sense or enterprise grade mobile device management policies, Lookout is the choice.
App stores are reaching critical mass. Imagine anything that you could do with a mobile device and there are some developers somewhere looking in how to do it. Our 2011 list includes location services, security, social networking, payments, HTML5, NFC among other topics. The next year will be fascinating to watch these platforms grow into things that normal people would have never dreamed of creating. In December 2012 this list will have more HTML5 components and NFC will be in the hands of many more people.
There are some honorary mentions that deserve to get a nod. Zite, the iPad-based reader, barely lost to Pulse. Location services Geoloqi and Life360 are strong candidates to make this list next year but need time to evolve to push past the consumer mindshare that Foursquare already has. In the games department, Tiny Tower and Infinity Blade lose out to Angry Birds and its millions of users. In payments, PayPal is the leader in the space but not as innovative in emerging spaces as Square and Google Wallet are.
What should be added to our list? What should be taken off? Let us know in the comments.