While the devices and platforms that deliver digital content and advertising campaigns remain integral to mobile marketing, at the heart of mobile marketing’s future could very well be mobile applications.

Catering to the runaway popularity of mobile apps, the first day of the Mobile World Congress brought with it an unprecedented announcement from twenty-four major wireless carriers that speaks volumes about the power and potential of the mobile applications industry.

The announcement proclaimed the forthcoming development of a “wholesale applications community,” a global app store of sorts made possibe through an alliance of carriers like AT&T, Verizon, NTT DoCoMo, Deutsche Telekom, China Mobile and Vodafone. All have pledged their cooperation in developing an \”open technology platform” in one year’s time, the standard of which will be independent of smartphone type or operating system.

Although the joint announcement is only hours old, the revelation has provoked two nearly universal perspectives from industry analysts. First, the “team effort” unveiled at Mobile World Congress illustrates an impressive and ambitious undertaking that could provide endless creative and financial opportunities for mobile developers and mobile marketers. Second, the reality that otherwise rival organizations can put their competitive postures aside (assuming they actually will) for this venture says all we need to know about the enormous future of the mobile applications industry and how it is inextricably linked to the equally auspicious future of mobile marketing.

Whether it means an explosion of small businesses and entrepreneurs developing their own apps, or marketers finding new and innovative ways to incorporate advertisements into mobile applications, the industry is poised for record growth. Consumers, in fact, are projected to spend upwards of $6 billion in mobile application stores this year. Incredibly, however, free downloads will still account for better than eight out of every ten downloads in 2010.

Worldwide downloads in mobile application stores are expected to top 21.6 billion by 2013.

“As smartphones grow in popularity and application stores become the focus for several players in the value chain, more consumers will experiment with application downloads,” said Stephanie Baghdassarian, research director at Gartner. “Games remain the No. 1 application, and mobile shopping, social networking, utilities and productivity tools continue to grow and attract increasing amounts of money.”