Important Trends in Mobile DevelopmentReading Time: 5 minutes
In the ten short years since the first iPhone was released, smart phones have taken the world by storm. Today, around around 80% of phones are sold with the Android OS, and around 20% with iOS*. Mobile app revenue is expected to grow to 188 billion dollars worldwide, by 2020. Today, consideration of mobile users is a core component to an overall business strategy. Before we discuss some trends to watch in mobile app development, a brief review of it’s history.
How did we get here?
The first iPhone was released in June 2007. The following year, Apple announced the opening of its App Store. Containing 500 apps it experienced 10 million downloads in the first weekend open. In 2010, Google directed its focus towards being a “Mobile First” company. At the time, mobile adoption was occurring eight times faster than the original adoption of the internet, and mobile devices made up about half of the total internet connections.
In 2012, Google announced its “Google Play” store. A cloud-based store for “music, movies, books and apps” that are stored online, and available across all of your devices. From that point, free mobile app downloads grew from 57 billion in 2012, to 253 billion in 2017. Currently, there are 3 billion mobile users, worldwide. That number is expected to grow to 3.8 billion by 2021 (newzoo).
Modern Trends in Mobile Apps
We know that mobile use is growing to becoming the dominant means of connecting with the internet. You’ve seen the statistics, we all know where mobile is going. Let’s move on to a more enjoyable discussion: trends in mobile development.
At Google’s annual developer’s conference, this May, they announced a shift from being “mobile-first” to an “AI first” company. That isn’t to say that mobile has become any less important, only that AI is becoming even more important for Google and other leaders in the tech industry.
The prominent use of AI is in the personalization of apps. Businesses are leveraging data from the point of sale, online traffic, and anywhere data can be found, to discover trends and create a more meaningful, content-rich, experience to engage users. Recently, we learned precisely how potent machine learning has become in recent years. These algorithms are able to process massive amounts of data, too large for human analysis, and extract valuable insights.
Perhaps you’re wondering exactly what AI first means for the mobile first philosophy that’s dominated since Google first introduced it. As you probably suspected, AI is not going to replace mobile. Mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches will continue to grow as a primary means of connecting with the internet, and AI will continue to grow in its influence of our experience with those applications.
Google is leading the pack with another important trend that was made available to the public in May of 2017. Instant apps are able to be launched with the click of a URL, rather than requiring a full download and installation. In support of this feature, developers partition apps into small runnable pieces. These instant apps act mostly as a preview, allowing users to test out some features before deciding to download the complete application. Another benefit they offer is that they allow users to share app content with friends who gain access without installing the entire app.
- Benefits of native apps without download and install.
- Lightweight, low demand on resources.
- No installs get more users trying your app with less friction.
- Links direct users to your app, rather than your mobile site, allows for a more immersive mobile experience.
- No need to create a new app, modularize existing code.
- Instant Apps are supported by more operating systems.
- E-commerce made simple with instant access to Android Pay.
Cross-platform developing can save time, money, and eliminates the trouble of maintaining separate code-bases for each mobile platform. There are two basic types of cross-platform developing, hybrid and native.
Hybrid is a sub-type of cross-platform developing where the core of the application is designed like a web-app, which then has a native WebView browser wrapper built around it. These apps can be built quickly, are easy for web developers, and inexpensive. On the down-side, with hybrid you are restricted to the same user interface for each platform, have limited access to the features of the device, and can suffer performance issues.
Native cross platform developing also exists under the general classification of cross-platform developing, and involves creating applications that communicate with the operating system directly rather than as simple web-apps. These applications are able to achieve a high performance, have direct access to mobile hardware, and offer a flexible UI across platforms.
Generally speaking, native cross-platform developing is more cost-effective than native developing. However, with pure native, you are more tightly integrated with the systems features. With cross-platform developing you become dependent on your cross-platform framework to properly support the features of each device.
Last year, Google and Apple each released their code for developing augmented reality (AR) mobile apps within a few days of each other. AR places a digital layer over the existing world, with the help of the screen and camera of your phone or tablet. An AR mobile app allows you to anchor information to real-world objects, and provide other means for digitally interacting with our three-dimensional world.
This is a brand new field, which means there are still plenty of opportunities. Currently, the AR experience typically provides a 2D interface with the 3D world. Over time the experience will become even more integrated with the 3D world, eventually shedding the 2D interface. When designing AR mobile apps, user movement is a central component to keep in mind. The users of these apps now constantly re-position their devices while engaged. So developers must account for various device orientations and camera positions.
Now that advances in machine learning and natural language processing have delivered conversational AI, we are beginning to see more voice-based UI in mobile applications. Adding a conversational UI makes your app more accessible, and provide a hands-free experience. Additionally, these voice assistants offer a more personal experience by mimicking human conversation. Over the coming years, conversational AI will continue to improve and become a preferred method for interacting with all of our devices. Chatbots could replace 30% of customer service positions, translating into massive savings, for that fact if no other, you can be sure of the growing dominance and improvement*.
The importance of mobile developing only continues to grow as the years go by. As it does the many trends in computing become filtered through its domain, and the consumer continues to expect a more highly refined mobile experience. Another important trend that we didn’t break down into its own category, cloud computing, will also grow in importance; gradually delivering the same type of experience on each of our screens. For old-school desktop warriors, such as myself, that might not be what you want to hear. However, like it or not, the mobile web isn’t going to loosen its hold of market share. Realistically, there’s more to like, than not, as the end-user experience of mobile features will continue to be refined and perfected.