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Fix the economy? There's a mobile app for that.

Mobile apps could boost the economy just as previous high-tech breakthroughs have.

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Another advantage: The barrier to entry is significantly lower for app creators than it is for traditional software developers. They can quickly develop an app for multiple smart phones and monetize the work through an app store.

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Of course, that's a blip in a $14.6 trillion economy. But the economic impact of apps is not limited to their development and sale. There's far more potential in the changes they create throughout the workplace, in stores, and at home.

"At the end of the day, what is created is an on-demand society where you can access and engage in information at a moment's notice across every aspect of your lifestyle and work life," says Matt Goddard of R2integrated, an Internet marketing and technology firm based in Baltimore. "The mobile, on-demand society will reach almost every sector of the economy and every individual in the economy in more ways than you can imagine."

For example, the Red Laser app that allows users to scan bar codes could change the way businesses take inventory or consumers price shop. Mobile phones enabled with "near field communication" chips can be swiped at metro stations and convenience stores, turning a cellphone into a mobile wallet. ITIF estimates the global use of these contactless mobile payments at $10 billion in 2009 and they're expected to surpass $52 billion by 2012.

"The $4 app means you're going to buy more stuff, try more things, and do more things because it's only four bucks," says Oren Michels, CEO of San Francisco-based Mashery, which manages application programming interfaces that help companies develop and manage mobile and Web applications. Even free apps can generate new business. [Editor's note: This paragraph was changed to accurately reflect Mashery's business.]

"Mobile applications will be a huge driver of employment," says ITIF analyst Stephen Ezell. "You have tens of thousands of people writing mobile applications, and I'm sure an increasing amount of e-commerce will be driven on the device. A mobile phone now is a communication and computing platform and that's going to drive real transformation."

Of course, this level of utility could also penalize the economy. Mobile apps might replace many bank tellers. They could cut into PC sales. As mobile e-commerce catches on, the global value of mobile commercial or financial transactions will exceed $587 billion, ITIF says.

"The killer app is anything that enables e-commerce," says Mr. Way of Villanova. "Putting the ability to make immediate purchases or sales in many potential customers' and sellers' hands is power."


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