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RISMEDIA, May 6, 2011— When the telephone first came into use, the biggest problem people had was getting their neighbor off the line so they could get a chance to talk. In time, however, you could get six landlines delivered to your home so that everyone had an opportunity to talk. Only problem was, you had to run to answer it when it rang. And if you went to the store and forgot your list, you’d have to find a pay phone to call home. By today’s standards, communication was a bit cumbersome.

Today, with the evolution of the mobile phone, all those problems are solved quickly just by texting someone. In a matter of seconds, you can find out whether you’re supposed to get fat free milk or 1 percent. When the mobile phone was first introduced, however, it was a lot different from what we know today. The Ditech 8000 from Motorola, the first available mobile phone, was 13 inches long, almost two inches thick and four inches wide. Plus, it sold for $4,000! As more people began to explore the idea of the mobile phone, however, Motorola came out with the Startac in ’96, which was a real game changer thanks to its clamshell design. It was also much more affordable. Everyone was ecstatic.

The biggest mobile evolution that busted the wall down in 2007, however, was the creation of the Android distribution system that would become open to all types of hardware and software providers. This made everything completely different. Now, all kinds of cell phones became equipped with multiple features, from ringtones to news updates. This movement started to accelerate and hit high gear when manufacturers realized they could develop more and more uses for the phone. They also realized that by creating more apps (applications), that usage could increase exponentially. And it did just that. The goal was to increase mobile phone usage by 500 percent in five years. That goal was way more than doubled by 2010. Currently, there are more than 350,000 mobile apps available on the app store. In February of this year, Apple celebrated its 10 billionth download. As a result of that, “app” was honored as the word of the year for 2010.

Applications are what make a smartphone smart. According to PC magazine, during average smartphone use in a monthly period, users spend 671 minutes texting, 667 minutes using apps, and 531 minutes on talk-time.

The significance of this is not lost on us, I know. We are turning our mobile devices into mini, portable computers that we use from the time the sun begins to rise. We might use an app to wake us up, and app to start our cars and warm them up, an app to map out a route to walk the dog, and an app to tell us how fast we’re walking and how many steps we’ve taken. There are apps that will then tell us where the closest Starbucks is, where the speed traps are, and even a confession app for those of us who just can’t make it to church.

At a conference last year, Eric Schmidt, the CEO and chairman of Google announced that in two years, smartphones would surpass the purchase of PCs, and in 2011, this had already become a reality. And according to PC magazine, apps are at the root of the smartphone revolution. Apps allow your phones to become anything you want them to be. Apps are what make your computer truly personal and make your phone an extension of your body and brain. As Android designer Matisse Durate says, it’s all about self expression and finding the tools that will help you throughout your day.

For real estate professionals, there are tremendous opportunities to utilize apps, which are often free or of very little cost, to help facilitate their business lives. Here is a list of some of the ones I consider “musts” for the real estate community:

  • Yelp! – This free ratings app is now available on the big three: iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry
  • – Access property data on the fly, just like consumers are
  • Supra lock box app – For iPhones and, in parts of country, also available on Android
  • Dropbox – Like a virtual Cloud network; have access to all your important documents, photos, listing agreements both on your PC and your mobile device.
  • Keynote – Allows you to control your presentations, such as Power Points, with your mobile phone
  • Ustream – Allows you to stream a love open house to your sphere
  • Docusign – An app that recognizes electronic signatures
  • MobileMe – Automatically synchronizes all your data across all platforms, including email
  • WordPress – Allows you to blog on the fly
  • Zillow
  • Trulia
  • YouTube
  • Swipe – Helps you type faster
  • Foursquare – Allows you to connect with people by sharing your whereabouts
  • Textplus – A free text message app
  • Hootsuite – Helps you monitor Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter
  • Mashable – A robust source of all kinds of information; you can set up alerts to have information pushed to your iPhone or iPad.
  • Texthog – Tracks all of your expenses—you can actually take a picture of a receipt and it will file it for you and interfaces with your PC
  • Slydial – Allows you to go directly to someone’s voicemail when you call their mobile device

Agents should also check out all the apps available in the photography category:

  • Stamp It! – Enables you to take a photo or choose one from your photo library, stamp whatever caption you’d like on it, and then send it electronically.
  • Photo magic – Allows you to imbed a photo into all sorts of virtual settings, from billboards to Paris!
  • Photobucket – Allows more flexibility in terms of building albums for listings
  • Photogene – Allows you to crop, sharpen, adjust color, add text bubbles, etc.
  • Popcarte – Allows you to take a picture, add a message and mail it to the recipient…all before you even get out of the client’s driveway

It’s an understatement to say there is no shortage of really useful apps like the ones I’ve highlighted here. Discover the apps that will work for you by looking at the way you do business. Detail the problem areas, the activities you do most often, or the areas you are most interested in. Then search the app store by category, i.e., travel, news, photography, organization, etc. The right apps will help you increase your efficiency and allow you to facilitate business when you’re not in your office. Plus, they’ll help position you as the thought leader and ambassador in your community. Like any good real estate tool, apps will serve an important role in helping you build stronger relationships.