Remember when you flipped open your mobile phone and only made calls with it? It wasn't that long ago, but after watching the demos of mobile applications startup companies at DEMO Spring 2011, the flip phone seems prehistoric.
The mobile apps on display today at DEMO would have seemed preposterous four years ago, but the industry has advanced at lightning speed, and businesses that want to keep thriving are embracing mobile technologies for smartphones and tablets.
Many of DEMO's mobile startups offer purely consumer apps that, for example, allow a person to alert family, friends and the police about an emergency in one tap (Guardly from Guardly) or collect, localize and socialize news stories and trends for the iPad (News 360 for iPad from News 360).
But new mobile apps are also aimed at businesses, whether it's a platform that helps you build mobile apps or lets you have separate platforms for work and personal life on the same smartphone.
Slideshow: 20 Awesome Tech Products at DEMO
Here are four mobile technologies from DEMO that businesses might want to consider.
MobileNation from MobileNation
Why wait for your company's developers to build applications when you can build them yourself? The MobileNation app allows users with no developer experience to design and build applications for tablets and smartphones (iPhone and Android). Using a drag-and-drop visual interface, anyone can build apps that, for example, add locations on top of a Google Maps widget and create an RSS feed about the subject of your choice.
The app is free, but there is a paid enterprise version where companies can have advanced features and can keep data in their private cloud rather than on MobileNation's site.
Competition: MobileRoadie, Red Foundry, AppMakr
ON Voicefeed from Life Is Better ON
One of the most enjoyable presentations at DEMO was for ON Voicefeed, a mobile app from Life Is Better ON, a France-based company that is trying to revolutionize the voicemail message. The app, currently available on the iPhone, allows you to customize different voicemail greetings for different people or groups. So you can have a different greeting for your parents, your spouse, your boss or a co-worker or group of co-workers.
The app also lets you send and convert text to voice messages so you can update your voicemail greetings without speaking. The visual voicemail feature allows you to see who called and left a message and pick which to listen to first. Voice messages are stored in the cloud.
There are free and premium versions of ON Voicefeed now available for the iPhone.
Competition: HulloMail, YouMail, PhoneFusion, Google Voice
Small Business iPhone and Android Apps from Bizness Apps
Bizness Apps is another do-it-yourself app startup that helps those without any programming knowledge to create, edit, customize and manage their own iPhone and Android apps and then publish them to iTunes or the Android market. As the product name says, Bizness Apps' target customers are small businesses such as restaurants, fitness centers, law firms and real estate firms.
The monthly fee for the app is $39.99, and there is no setup fee or contract.
Competition: AppMkr, SwebApps, Mobile Roadie
Divide from Enterproid
Enterproid, which won the Qualcomm QPrize competition at DEMO, is a brand new mobile startup founded by executives from Morgan Stanley and MTV Networks. Its platform, called Divide, helps people set up a personal profile and a professional profile on the same Android device.
Users can switch back and forth between a personal profile containing all their favorite apps (gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare etc.) and a work profile containing corporate-managed apps like mail, calendar, messenger and tasks. The switch can be done with the tap of a button and entering PIN, but no data can cross the work/personal divide.
There are two cloud-based consoles on the Enterproid site: one for the user and one for a company's IT admin. The consoles present voice, data and SMS usage. Remote wiping of data is available on the console for IT admins if a phone is lost or stolen, but IT can only wipe out business data. Users can remotely wipe their phone's personal data, but not their business data.
Divide is now available in private beta for Android phones and tablets running version 2.2 or greater. It will be offered for free during the beta period, and then on a subscription basis once testing is completed.
Competition: No direct competitors.
Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at email@example.com