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15 Mobile Apps That Will Matter in 2011

Whether your platform of choice is iOS, Android, or something else, these are the mobile apps you'll be talking about next year.

15 Mobile Apps That Will Matter in 2011

With hundreds of thousands of mobile apps already available, you might think that we don't need any more. But you'd be wrong. Even with so many apps out there for the iPad, the iPhone, Android phones and tablets, BlackBerrys, and other smart devices, we want--and need--more. Here are the mobile that apps you'll be talking about in 2011. In addition to apps, this list includes new phone functions and OS features that will change the way you use your mobile device.

Netflix for Android

Netflix streaming already is available for the iPhone, the iPad, and Windows Phone 7 devices. But it has yet to make its way to Android phones, largely because of security concerns over the somewhat fragmented nature of the Android OS. But that will change in 2011, when Netflix expects to deliver an Android-compatible app. That's the good news. The bad news is that it will only work on select Android handsets.

Skype With Video Calling for the iPhone

When the iPhone 4 launched in mid-2010, Apple heralded its forward-facing camera and Facetime video chat capability as a major achievement--and the combination is pretty cool, as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection and a group of iPhone 4-owning friends who want to video chat with you. If you didn't, well, you were out of luck, but not anymore. Skype has released an update to its iPhone app that will allow video calling over Wi-Fi and 3G connections.

Skyfire for BlackBerry

Skyfire's mobile browser, which lets you view flash videos without actually having Flash on your phone, is already available for the iPhone, the iPad, and Android devices. And for a while it seemed to be on the verge of coming to BlackBerrys. But then the company stopped developing a browser for RIM's OS. In a statement explaining the move, Skyfire blasted the "BlackBerry developer environment"--an ominous sign for a platform that needed high-profile, consumer-friendly apps. At the time, Skyfire said that it would consider returning to BlackBerry in the future, noting that it might do so after the release of the BlackBerry 6 OS. Now that the OS is here, let's hope Skyfire sets its sights on BlackBerry once again--and brings other developers with it.

Amazon MP3 App for BlackBerry

Amazon MP3 for BlackBerry, recently released in beta, is exactly the type of app that RIM needs if it's going to continue to make the case that BlackBerry phones are a real option for consumers. This app lets BlackBerry users quickly and easily download DRM-free tracks to their phones, just as Android users have been doing since that platform was launched.

Facebook App for the iPad

No matter how many times users ask for it, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is adamant that his company won't offer a dedicated Facebook app for the iPad because the iPad isn't a mobile device--despite what millions of iPad users think. So, it doesn't seem likely that Facebook will deliver an iPad app any time soon; but the company does appear to be weighing its options with regard to tablets. How Facebook approaches this new class of devices will certainly set a precedent for others to follow. So the question isn't whether Facebook will build an iPad app, but how it will handle tablets?

Next Issue Media for Android

Next Issue Media, a digital newsstand of sorts that will allow users to subscribe to various publications, will arrive on Android phones and tablets in early 2011. Its developer says that the app could run on the iPad, too, but tells AllThingsD that the company is focusing on Android devices instead. Though Next Issue's CEO didn't say why he's not pushing his app into Apple's store, AllThingsD suggests that it may be because of Apple's refusal to share the data it collects from subscribers with the publishers who supply Next Issue with digital magazines.

Mobile Payments on All Platforms

Okay, this one is more hardware than software, but it still deserves to be included on this list, because it will change the way we use our smartphones. Using a smartphone to make payments--so that the device itself becomes sort of a credit card--became a reality with Google's new Nexus S phone, which features a built-in NFC (Near Field Communication) chip. NFC chips could revolutionize the way we use our phones; and Apple appears to be taking notice. Reports indicate that Apple is working on a new type of "logo antenna" that could work in conjunction with software to bring the same mobile payment feature to the iPhone.

Ford SYNC AppLink on Various Platforms

Cars and cell phones are, at best, a dubious mix, especially when it comes to safety. Ford's SYNC AppLink, announced earlier this year, is designed to make using your smartphone in your car safer, by allowing you to control your mobile apps by voice. AppLink is a free, downloadable software program that lets you control compatible apps from your Android or BlackBerry phone--and now from your iPhone, too. Compatible apps include Pandora and Stitcher news radio.

Madden NFL 11 and Need for Speed Shift for Android

Android phones are known for plenty of things, but gaming prowess isn't one of them. That may change in 2011, as more games make their way to Google's mobile OS. Among the anticipated titles: EA's Need for Speed Shift, and Madden NFL 11. Google's Nexus S page promises that Need for Speed Shift will be available in the Android Market in "Winter 2010," while Madden NFL 11 will be available for the Droid X, but only through Verizon.

PlayStation App for iPhone and Android

As rumors swirl that Sony is working on a PlayStation phone, the company has confirmed one thing: It is developing a PlayStation app for the iPhone and Android phones. An iPhone app might seem odd, given that Sony reportedly is close to introducing an iPhone-rivaling, Android-based PlayStation phone in early 2011. But it makes a lot of sense, too. Sony's EU blog confirmed development of the app in December, but did not say when--or whether--the Official PlayStation app would become available in the United States.

Pandora for Windows Phone

In March 2010, Microsoft announced that a version of Pandora would be available on Windows Phone 7 devices when they launched. But when phones running Microsoft's new mobile OS debuted, the popular Internet radio app was nowhere to be found. Why Pandora decided not to make its app available on Windows phones and whether Pandora will launch it in 2011 remain unanswered questions. But Microsoft needs apps like Pandora if the Windows Phone 7 platform is to succeed.

WellDoc DiabetesManager System

Using a smartphone app to monitor your health makes sense, as you have your phone with you most of the time. But when an app goes beyond monitoring your health and delves into delivering actual medical advice, well, relying on an app could be dicey. That's why the FDA has ruled that WellDoc's DiabetesManager System, a smartphone app coming in 2011, must be treated as a medical device. It's an important precedent, and the FDA's move shows that there is plenty of potential for similar medical apps in the future.

Norton Everywhere for iPhone and Android

According to McAfee Labs, 2011 is going to be a big year for threats to mobile devices. The more we rely on our smartphones, especially to manage things such as finances and health, the more we need to protect them. That's why apps like Norton Everywhere, which guards against malware and secures your phone's data if it gets lost or stolen, will matter more than ever before.

Google eBooks

Google's recently launched eBooks service isn't an app, exactly. It has an app component, which is available for iOS and Android devices, but Google eBooks is actually a cloud-based service for buying and reading digital books. It lets you read books on any browser and on almost any device, while storing your books "in the cloud," so you can access them whenever you want, wherever you are. Many pundits have been saying devices like the iPad could kill dedicated e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook. But Google's cloud-based approach might do more damage to these devices than any tablet could.

VLC for Android

The VLC open-source media player would seem to be a natural fit for the open-source Android OS. Nevertheless, while a VLC app is available for Apple's closed iOS, a version for Android is not. That will change in 2011, when the company promises to release an app for Android. The fact that the app isn't already available is largely due to Android's fragmented nature--the same factor that delayed the Netflix app for Android. With such high-profile apps slow to come to Netflix, Android's fragmentation problem is becoming more obvious. Will that change in 2011?

Anything for the BlackBerry Playbook

RIM's much-hyped PlayBook tablet faces plenty of scrutiny ahead of its launch. The biggest question about this device is whether it will be able to compete with the iPad and the growing horde of Android-based alternatives. For the PlayBook to compete, it must have apps, and lots of them. One of the PlayBook's biggest selling points is its powerful processor--it will feature a 1GHz dual-core chip--so it will certainly be capable of multitasking and running power-hungry apps. Now, if those apps materialize, we'll have a little more insight into what the fate that awaits the PlayBook.