What if you could run any app on any mobile device? No more deciding what device you'll buy based on what apps you need. No more carrying multiple devices to get the functionality you want.

A cloudy future
That would sure change the competitive dynamics in the smartphone and tablet wars. Currently Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) is the leader in mobile apps, but Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android operating system is making rapid gains. Meanwhile, early mobile device leader Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) is at risk of becoming the next Palm, marginalized by technology shifts. (RIM recently announced it will offer software to run Android on its Blackberry devices, but the solution sounds clunky.)

What's in it for you
The shift to running any app on any device is already happening. Have you accessed Gmail or Google Voice with a web browser on a mobile device? Then you've accessed an application running in "the cloud." That means processing and storing information took place at a Google data center instead of on your mobile device. Processing and storing information uses a lot of power, so moving it off your device could prolong your battery life and/or result in smaller batteries -- and thus smaller, lighter mobile devices. 

What's in it for app developers
Running apps via a web browser instead of on a mobile device also means app developers need only develop one version of an app. Currently, they typically develop an iOS (Apple) version, then an Android version. Research In Motion claims its new tools make it easy for developers to adapt existing apps to run on its devices. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) makes a similar claim about developer tools for its webOS devices. But neither RIM nor HP has many apps available for their devices compared to iOS and Android. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) recently revealed its Windows 7 Phone platform has 11,500 apps. That's a good start, but like HP and RIM, a figure that still trails Android and iOS by a wide margin.

Foolish takeaway
ABI Research expects the number of cloud applications to exceed the number of traditional, downloadable apps by 2014. A shift from downloadable apps to cloud-based apps would take away the advantage Apple and Google currently have in the app battles. That would level the playing field and give HP, RIM, and Microsoft a better shot at serious mobile device market share. And it would be a negative for Apple and those handset makers that have put a deep level of commitment behind Android such as Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI), Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) and Samsung.

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Fool contributor Cindy Johnson owns shares of Microsoft. Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers choice. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. The Fool has written puts on Apple. Motley Fool Options has recommended a bull call spread position on Apple. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Motley Fool Alpha LLC owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.