The analyst house IDC predicts that the number of people using the internet on their mobiles will more than double to reach one billion by 2013.

Meanwhile, the number of mobile applications or “apps” available on Google’s mobile platform, Android, has risen sharply from 10,000 in September 2009 to a little under 20,000 in December 2009.

While currently the main uses of this technology revolve around our personal lives, (for activities such as social networking, listening to music and downloading entertaining apps), the predicted increase in the popularity of the mobile Internet and mobile apps is set to filter into the way we run our businesses and interact with customers. To help companies get to grips with this emerging trend here is some advice on using apps to benefit your organisation.

How can using apps help my business? 

Apps offer great potential to market your business, network, boost customer service and improve the way staff work on the move and communicate with one another. There are many apps already available which can be of use to small businesses. Here are a few examples:

  • Note Everything lets you make written, audio or visual notes, setting reminders and prioritise important tasks
  • Dedicated business networking sites such as LinkedIn have also developed their own apps to allow easy access to updates on the site for busy professionals
  • Dow Jones has launched an app for sales people which provides up-to-the-minute intelligence about business changes such as management moves and new investments to help sales professionals improve their knowledge of prospects and customers
  • T-Mobile’s free shareAnywhere app helps businesses share information about products and services with customers and colleagues wherever they are. You can use it to automatically compress image files into a high-quality brochure-like slideshow, complete with your company branding.

These are just a few examples of an ever-expanding range of mobile apps now available to businesses. It is worth doing your own research into whether your preferred suppliers, information resources and customers offer useful apps for your business.

What mobile device do I need to access mobile apps?

Mobile apps are available on a wide range of smartphones, including BlackBerrys, iPhones, G1s and G2 Touch devices. Deciding on your choice of smartphone will involve deciding on the look, feel and functionality of the device that best suits your needs. It is important to be aware that not all apps are compatible with all devices: your choice of smartphone will determine which app marketplace you will be able to access.

How do I download apps for my smartphone?

You can explore and download mobile apps through the Web sites of the platform developers, which you may need to access on your smartphone. These marketplaces divide apps into sub-categories such as entertainment, productivity, paid for and free apps. The site will also tell you which are the most popular apps that week.

While the iPhone’s app marketplace remains popular, analysts predict that the smartphone market will be increasingly transformed by Google’s mobile operating platform Android and its growing popularity.

What will using apps cost my business? 

As the popularity of smartphones grows their price point is likely to reduce to accommodate this increasing demand. Some operators will offer the devices for free to businesses as part of their contracts. Apps available for you to download will often be free or very low priced. The cost of using the mobile internet is also likely to become increasingly affordable.

There are now price plans available for businesses that accommodate unlimited use of the mobile internet for a flat monthly rate. It is likely that tariffs that deliver greater value, simplicity and flexibility will increase in 2010 as operators respond to customers’ increasing expectations for more email, texts and minutes and better quality access to the mobile internet and multimedia applications.

How can I develop my own app? 

The scope for businesses to benefit from creating their own mobile apps is vast. Retailers can experiment with apps to allow online purchases, plumbers, engineers and builders could develop apps to keep customers updated on the status of jobs, entrepreneurs may wish to develop apps to market their business to key audiences. Once you have an idea of what you want your app to do, it is not difficult to get started. There are many app development companies you can contact to help with this process.