Flex your apps with cell phone software

You've probably bought programs for your PC. You may have bought games for a game machine.

But software for your cell phone? Probably not.

For a whole host of reasons, that may soon change.

Expecting a new golden age of handset software, programmers are developing thousands of new applications that they're betting you'll want on your phone.

“People are getting used to the idea that there's more to a phone than talking,” said Shiv Bakhshi, an analyst who covers the mobile phone market for industry research firm IDC. “It's a very exciting time.”

Many consumers already use programs built into their phones to send text messages or take and send pictures. IPhone owners can install programs that let them tune into Internet radio stations or get directions to the nearest gas station.

But in coming months and years, phones will be able to do a lot more, analysts say:

By simply using your phone's camera to take a picture of a bar code, you will find out instantly whether the store across the street or one online is selling a coffee maker at a lower price than the store you are at.

Whenever your bank account dips below a certain balance, your phone will notify you – and allow you with one click to instantly move more money into the account.

If you have a medical device implant, you will be able to use your phone to instantly and automatically alert your doctor to any troubling conditions.

Your phone will be able to tell you when you need to leave your house or office to make an appointment on time, given existing traffic conditions along your route.

In short, your cell phone will soon be able to offer information specific to a time, place and circumstance. The applications will “mash” together information from the Internet, nearby sources, internal sensors and calendars and address books.

“The concept of mash-ups, that's going to be a big deal,” said Ken Dulaney, a mobile computing analyst at Gartner. “That kind of integration will happen … on the phone out of necessity.”

Of course, many folks already do a lot on their phone other than just talk. Texting isn't just for teens any more, and many consumers use their phone's camera. Many phones come with games and music and video players.

Owners of smart phones like Research In Motion's BlackBerrys, Palm's Treos and Apple's iPhone have long used their devices to check e-mail, surf the Web and use business applications.

What's new is that these powerful devices are starting to hit the mainstream. Smart phones – mobile devices that include an operating system and act almost like pocket computers – can be had for as little as $99.

As they've become cheaper, smart phones have become more popular. Some 10 percent of phones shipped worldwide – and some 19 percent of phones sold at retail in the United States – are smart phones.