With 4G networks due to hit the mass market over the next two years, some application developers are looking at ways to exploit the new high-speed connections to improve the performance and capabilities of their apps.
The biggest splash is expected to come in the form of video applications, as 4G technologies such as WiMAX and LTE will allow streaming of HD video over connections that are likely to deliver average download speeds of at least 3Mbps at the start. This sort of high speed wireless connectivity is enticing to companies such as Nobex Technologies that currently specialise in developing mobile applications that give users live audio streaming of their favorite radio stations from around the country. Nobex CEO Gadi Mazor says once 4G networks are online, his company will take a hard look at how to bring video to its applications.
"The big difference between 3G and 4G connections is going to be between streaming audio and video," Mazor says. "Streaming video is something that we can do right now with demonstrations but it's not ready for mass deployment yet. Once 4G networks are out there then it will be extremely possible."
Mazor says in the future, the company could develop an application that has video clips of artists performing songs while users listened to them on the radio stream. In this way, companies such as Nobex could integrate video into their audio offerings and give users a more comprehensive multimedia experience than they could before.
But increased usage of video will be just one aspect of faster wireless connections. Another will be the capacity for increased real time interactivity, which will impact the mobile gaming industry. Keith Pichelman, the CEO of mobile game developer Concrete Software, says faster connection speeds on 4G networks would help his company take their smartphone games to a whole new level.
"We don't do lots of intensive networking with our games right now," says Pichelman, whose company has adapted games such as Texas Hold 'Em and Sid Meier's Pirates for smartphone platforms. "We do have a little bit of multiplayer in our games but right now it's all turn based. With LTE and WiMAX we'd be able to do intensive, real time multiplayer games more like what you see on gaming consoles."
Of course, the rise of 4G networks won't only be about developing entertainment and gaming applications. From the enterprise perspective, 4G will lead to the development of mobile applications that better enable real time collaboration between workers. DataViz, a mobile software company that currently develops the popular Documents to Go program that helps users create Microsoft Office files on their smartphones, is just one company that expects to see its enterprise apps benefit from 4G deployment in the next couple of years. DataViz product manager Ilya Eliashevsky says that while he doesn't imagine the company will reinvent the wheel when it develops a 4G version of Documents to Go, he does think that future versions will give users more options as far as what types of files they can send over their smartphones.
"The good news is that our technology is already optimised for mobile environments that don't require a lot of bandwidth," Eliashevsky says. "So in the future our application itself won't take up more data, but it will allow users to send and receive more data themselves."
In other words, Eliashevsky expects future versions of Documents to Go will be the same as today's, only stronger and faster."If you have a 3G connection right now and someone sends you a large PowerPoint presentation, you'll be able to download it over our application but you might decide that it's not worth the time to download," he explains. "But 4G will help customers deal with larger documents and spreadsheets that can then support more charts and graphs. You won't be as restricted to file size restraints as you are now."
But while all this talk of future app development may sound exciting, be warned that these apps aren't likely to pop up overnight. Rather, developers are more likely to wait until 4G technology is ubiquitous before investing capital into creating more high powered applications. In other words, some app developers figure that it won't be worth their time developing apps that depend on 4G connection speeds until most people in the country have access to 4G services.
"It will be a while before we put some of these more interactive games out because it will be a while before enough customers have access to the faster networks," Pichelman says. "In the meantime we're going to make our games as fun and as immersive as we can on 3G networks."
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