Research firm Gartner has just put out a list of the top ten mobile applications of the future. Well, not the distant future, but the far off year of 2012. Nothing on the list is all that surprising or, in many cases, even all that new. Instead, the list includes the sorts of technologies that are just now coming into their own and haven’t yet seen widespread adoption as well as the already common technologies that are still experiencing growth.

For many of the categories on this list, there are a number of mobile apps that are already available today. But what Gartner makes clear is that we’re just getting started when it comes to their use.

For example, location-based services (LBS) – there still isn’t one single app which everyone uses to find their friends out in the real world via their mobile phones. Instead, we have a number of similar but competing applications all vying to be the Facebook of location-based apps.

Another example is money payments – this type of service is having more of an impact in the developing world right now where access to banks is more difficult than here in the Western world where people just want the convenience of paying through their mobiles. When was the last time you paid someone or paid at checkout through your mobile phone? Never? That sounds about right.

The List

The full list is as follows:

  1. Money Transfer: This refers to people sending money via SMS messages. Like mobile payments, this service has more appeal in developing markets for now. However, there may come a time when even using your debit card seems passé, while paying for something with actual cash seems downright ancient.
  2. Location-Based Services: As mentioned above, there are still far too many services to choose from when it comes to location-based social networking, fragmenting the market. Your friends on Loopt are often different than those on Brightkite and that list is different than those on Foursquare. But LBS extends to more than social networks – it includes any application that taps into your phone’s GPS capabilities to offer up location-based services of any kind, whether that’s local business reviews or directions to the nearest Starbucks. Gartner says this will be one of the most disruptive technologies in the future, with a user base growing from 96 million in 2009 to 526 million in 2012.
  3. Mobile Search: No, mobile search isn’t new, but on the mobile platform, it may get shaken up a bit. Gartner predicts that consumers won’t necessarily be sticking with the search services they know and use on the Web (think Google, Bing, Yahoo) and instead experiment with using a few different search providers that have “unique technologies” for mobile search. While that statement is a little vague, it sounds like good news for services like Taptu who have entered this field with search offerings designed from the ground-up for mobile devices.
  4. Mobile Browsing: Saying that mobile browsing technologies will be heavily used in the future sounds a little bit like stating the obvious. But as Gartner notes, mobile browsing capabilities currently exist only on 60%+ of handsets today. By 2013, that number will climb to 80%, meaning that those who are still using the app-less,more basic feature phones will still be joining the mobile web in mass numbers over the coming years. That’s also good news for web developers who can build mobile web applications to cater to this bunch as opposed to focusing all their efforts into building apps for the numerous mobile platforms like the iPhone, Android, RIM, and others.
  5. Mobile Health Monitoring: Another technology whose impact will be felt more heavily in developing markets, mobile health monitoring is still at an early stage of maturity and implementation says Gartner. Project rollouts have been limited to pilot projects for now, but in the coming years the industry will begin to monetize these efforts by offering mobile healthcare monitoring products, services, and solutions to various care delivery organizations.
  6. Mobile Payments: Like mobile transfers, mobile payments are more common in developing markets at the moment, but that is quickly changing. Yet even as this type of service grows, Gartner admits there will be challenges. Mobile payments will be a “highly fragmented market” where there will not be “standard practices of deployment,” notes the report. That makes it sound like this is one technology that will still need some work, even when 2012 rolls around.
  7. Near Field Communications (NFC): More popular in some European and Asian markets than in the U.S., NFC still isn’t a standard feature on many of today’s phones. That may be about to change, too. In late 2010, Gartner says that NFC-enabled phones will begin to ship in volume, with Asia leading deployments, followed by Europe and North America.
  8. Mobile Advertising: Also not new but growing fast, mobile advertising is one of the most important ways to monetize mobile content. Total spending on mobile advertising in 2008 was $530.2 million and it will grow to $7.5 billion in 2012. And mobile advertising will also be used by companies alongside their other campaigns including TV, radio, print, and outdoors.
  9. Mobile Instant Messaging: Gartner says that latent user demand and market conditions are conductive to mobile IM’s future adoption. It will appeal to developing markets where mobile phones are often the only connectivity device a user owns. But will it be a major app by 2012? It seems that SMS is still the service to beat, especially in the developing world. We’ll have to wait and see on this one.
  10. Mobile Music: Sure, you have the iPhone, but what about your other options? What about mobile music services – especially those for non-iPhone devices? We’re still waiting on Spotify in the U.S., for example, and their competition too. Gartner says that we’re beginning to see new innovative models in this area that will include both device (think “Comes with Music”) and service bundles.

What’s Missing?

A glaring omission from this report is that of Augmented Reality. Gartner had even placed this technology on their “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2009” report earlier this year. Do they not think that AR will have a major impact by 2012? Considering that’s only a little over a year away, it could just be too soon for AR to see the widespread adoption that we hoped it would have by then. Or it’s possible that – as some have suspected – AR is simply a “cool” way to see and interact with the world around you, but hasn’t produced any “must-have,” highly useful applications just yet. For example, seeing AR views of local businesses and user recommendations is fun, but is it a markedly better experience than using a service like Yelp? For many, that answer today is “no.” AR needs to grow out of being a technology you use “because you can” to one you use “because you have to.” Until it’s the best option to perform a particular task, it may not make Gartner’s next list, either.