With powerful processors and better connectivity, the next mobile phone wars won't be fought just on the phone brands but also the operating systems — read Apple's iOS vs Android vs Symbian vs Bada OS vs Blackberry OS vs Windows Mobile — that they run on and the applications (apps) that are available.

It isn't going to matter if you are a Sony, a Nokia, an iPhone or a Samsung faithful. What's going to matter soon is if you are an Android, a Symbian, a Bada OS or an iOS devotee. Because the action has moved from what innovations your handset manufacturers had for you to how much the operating systems on your phone, and more specifically the applications (free and paid), are able to do for you. 

The apps war has well and truly begun on mobile platforms, and though it took a long time to warm up to this — mind you, smart phones have had these apps for several years now — the real explosion has been in the last couple of years with mobile apps developers world over bombarding the various apps stores for various mobile devices with their creations.  

What makes this war a real war and not so much a phoney war, as you would say the web browsers war, is the fact that people are willing to pay money for mobile apps. Yeah, you read that right, hard cash ... finally, something that's digital and earns money.  

And apps no longer mean only business solutions that the men in black suits and ties use, much like the self-mocking new advertisement of Blackberry by Vodaphone. There are apps these days for everyone, ranging from games to health monitoring apps to the exciting new world of augmented reality.  

Also smart phones are cheaper than ever before. You can get an Android-powered touchscreen mobile from Rs. 12k upwards or a mobile running Symbian for even lesser. Till a couple of years ago, smart phones cost north of Rs. 30k.  

Though smart phones for long referred to huge, even clunky designs, during the heyday of the early Palm, Blackberry and O2 mobile handsets, like every other domain, the game changer was the Apple's iPhone. It made smart mobiles appear cool. You were no longer a geek holding a smart phone, solving the world's problems or your own. You were having fun. 

Since the advent of the iPhone, other companies have followed suit with sleeker, cooler devices that have had the developer community buzzing with work on apps. The new generation handsets also have additional features such as in-built GPS, better precision cameras and accelerometers that have been used by developers. 

Take for example, a very innovative “Instant Heart Rate calculator” app for Android mobile phones developed byModula Software. All it requires the user to do is place his finger on the mobile camera. It measures the oxygen saturation changes in the blood, as reflected through the photographs of the skin of the finger placed on the camera.  

The Layar augmented reality app uses the GPS coordinates that your mobile phone feeds through the network to notify you, among various other things, the nearest ATM machines or restaurants. (Please note these have to be mapped.) 

Developers' delight 

Most mobile OS ecosystems offer the source code for mobile developers for free because they see the importance of populating their apps store with both ‘free' and ‘paid' apps. 

But mind you, like everywhere else, ‘free' is the worst misnomer ever. Even the apps that you might download from the online apps store without paying any cash, will require constant connectivity to the Internet, either through the GPRS or the Wi-Fi for the apps to run. Some apps make their money from the mobile ads they serve. And even if you are not paying for the apps themselves, you are still paying for the data flow. 

With GPRS data schemes available for less than Rs.100 for unlimited browsing, this still seems a fair deal now. With the impending full-fledged rollout of 3G by all players, this is an exciting time to invest in a smart phone. 

But before getting gung-ho about apps, a word of caution: most of the apps, much like all other online applications even on the Web, constantly monitor or get a feedback of your preferences because those are the building blocks on which the apps are built. So if you are finicky about what information you divulge to third party apps, it's prudent to pay attention to the fine print before installing the apps. 

Must try Apps

E-lounge lists some of the must-try free Apps that are available on various platforms.

1. Evernote (productivity app): Create notes, click photos, record voice memos, clip web notes ... put it all together. Evernote is an App that promises to get your digital life organised in a jiffy. You can download it on your PC and use a web browser plugin to create web notes. There is a data limit - 40 MB a month - on the free version. Available platforms: iPhone, Android, Palm Pre and Windows Mobile. Learn more at www.evernote.com

2. Layar (augmented reality app): Every one is talking about it. You can find out just what the heck Augmented Reality is with this free App. Layar takes your mobile to the cool zone. Not just any cool, we are talking "Minority Report" cool here. Covert your mobile phone into a moving visual encyclopedia. Curious? Visit www.layar.com Available platforms: Android and iPhone 3GS

3. Google Goggles: Point your mobile phone camera, click at a well known landmark or the cover of a book, and allow Google to fill in the details about the image. Google Goggles is a cool free App that is a must experiment for all Android mobile phone users. What's more it can even scan visiting cards for data and add it to your contacts. How cool is that?

Footnote: Try out as many free Apps there are out there in your respective ecosystems - be it Apple, Android, Symbian, Blackberry or Windows. But do remember that most of the free Apps might require constant background data usage to serve up advertisement links. So even if you are not paying for the App itself, you might spend on data usage.