Every day, around 1560 new apps are added to the Apple App Store. If you think that this is a remarkably high figure – sample this: the buzz in the Android marketplace is even higher, with just a shade under 3400 applications being added in a day. The worldwide mobile app development market is set to grow by a whopping 14.5% in the 2016-2022 time period, with cumulative downloads (of free applications) going beyond 253 billion by the end of this year. New and innovative tools, methodologies and practices are being followed by third-party developers, in their bid to make their apps successful. Over here, we will do a roundup of the most important app development trends for 2018:
Rise of ‘intelligent’ apps
In 2017 Q1, as many as 34 acquisitions of artificial intelligence (AI) startups went through. Biggies from the tech world – from Google and Baidu, to Apple and Intel – are taking over new and exciting AI startups, and the focus is shifting towards making mobile applications that have advanced ‘machine learning’ capabilities. Put in another way, developers are placing an increased emphasis on delivering completely customized app-usage experience to people, based on the preferences of the latter. For m-commerce and shopping apps, the focus is on creating user-friendly conversational commerce environments – with the help of AI-powered chatbots. As the volume of big data continues to spiral, special algorithms are being created to analyze the available labeled datasets – to come up with in-depth insights. From general business and marketing, to to surveillance, predictions, maintenance and recommendations – new-age apps with AI and ML are set to find more and more interesting use cases in 2018 and beyond.
Android Instant Apps to pick up pace
An August 2017 report revealed that Android Instant Apps (released in May) have already been installed in more than 500 million devices worldwide. Going forward, they are likely to play an increasingly important role in the app development ecosystem. Instant apps enable users to check out all the main features of an application, without having to install it (the experience is similar to loading a webpage). As a result, they give a serious boost to app-engagement levels – primarily since compatible Android apps become universally accessible. The compatibility of Android Instant Apps extends backwards till Jellybean. Over the next few quarters, the adoption stats of Instant Apps should witness accelerated growth.
Cloud computing and edge computing on the rise
No one wants to use apps that place too much pressure on the internal memory of devices. By 2014, mobile cloud traffic had increased to 81% – and cloud-based applications will make up around 90% of the total mobile traffic volume by the end of 2019 (the 2015-2020 CAGR will hover around the 61% mark). The presence of cloud support and robust API integration from the backend (mBaaS) have made it possible for sophisticated mobile apps to seamlessly store and access data from the cloud (as and when required), while ensuring data safety and integrity. In addition, the steady rise of cloud computing for app development is also doing away with much of the risk-factors associated with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) practices in many enterprises. Apart from storing data and browsing the web, cloud services are being used by apps for things like social networking, media (audio/video) streaming and online gaming. Edge computing is also coming to the fore, for enhancing the performance of cloud systems.
Swift for iOS developers
In March 2017, Apple’s Swift broke into the list of top ten programming language on the TIOBE Popularity Index for the first time (interestingly, its popularity has stalled somewhat since then, with Swift occupying the 16th spot in October). Swift 4.0 (launched in September), with its host of new features, like multi-line string literals, faster encoding/decoding (through the ‘Codable’ protocol), more efficient dictionaries and one-sided ranges – should give a timely boost to the popularity and usage rate of the language among iOS developers worldwide. Objective-C is not going to become history any time in the foreseeable future, but Swift will definitely be the ‘future’ as far as Apple app development is concerned.
Note: Just like Swift in the Apple ecosystem, Kotlin is rapidly gaining popularity for Android development. This article offers a more detailed study).
Importance of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
Accelerated Mobile Pages are going to be key for increasing the retention rates, and getting more value from web applications. Since the initial announcement of the open-source project by Google (in collaboration with Twitter), AMPs have grown in a big way – with more than 900000 web domains having started to publish AMPs by May this year. The technology has been instrumental in speeding up web page loading on mobile devices, and has also reduced bounce rates of web applications significantly. The enhanced searchability (with mobile search index and mobile search carousel) is yet another big benefit of AMPs, as are the boosts to total visitor counts, the improved click-through rates (CTRs) and more effective visitor analysis. With AMPs (which are, in essence, stripped down HTML pages), web app developers are being able to create both websites as well as web apps in a more agile manner.
Security in the spotlight
Given the concerns over mobile app security in the last few years – the recent Gartner report, showing that 3 out of every 4 applications (on average) do not meet the most basic security standards, comes as a shocker. Users are storing more and more personal, sensitive, confidential data (ranging from financial information, to identification/authentication details) inside apps – and, not surprisingly, the demand for apps with built-in, reliable security features is at an all-time high. In the iOS development system, the gradual shift of developers from Objective-C to Swift is motivated by, among other things, the need for making more secure applications. The growing number of apps which can digitally store users’ cards (bank cards and id cards) further pulls up the importance of all-round app security. In future, apps with suspect security features are bound to fail, even if they have other top-class functionalities.
Augmented Reality in focus
In 2018, the total number of mobile apps with built-in AR capabilities will cross 1580 million (a further 880 million standalone AR applications will be downloaded). By 2022, the corresponding figures will be 4670 million and 1388 million respectively. No longer is augmented reality limited to games (Pokemon Go immediately comes to mind) and digital entertainment apps. The technology is finding widespread acceptance in engineering, healthcare, real estate, retail and many other industries. AR-based enterprise apps are being used to deliver immersive visual experiences to customers (e.g., 3D product visualization in a shopping app). Virtual reality, on its part, is also growing – both in the mobile game development and business apps domains. Mobile AR will be the biggest contributor in the global AR/VR industry – estimated to reach $108 billion in 2021 – and developers will be integrating the technology in their new apps to make them more unique and of value.
Note: Virtual reality has been added to this year’s macOS High Sierra platform. Gradually, a distinction might emerge – with VR being more used for desktop systems, and AR being the go-to tool for mobile development.
Blockchains on the move
By the time this year is done and dusted, the value of the global blockchain (the immutable distributed ledger technology that forms the basis of bitcoin (and other cryptocurrency) transactions) market will be just a whisker under $340 million. Come 2024, and the market will shoot up to $7.74 billion – a truly remarkable stat. The increased focus on data security in software applications is pulling up the blockchain adoption figures in different industries – since records added in the underlying ledgers cannot be modified without changing all the previous blocks. This, in turn, makes data manipulation/theft from blockchain technology practically impossible. In 2018 and beyond, blockchains should emerge as important disruptors – not only in the financial domain – but in the overall digital transformation scenario.
IoT for mobile apps
Ecobee launched its fourth-generation smart thermostat – the ecobee4 – earlier this year. Nest is eyeing an early-2018 release for its smart video doorbell, which will have high-end facial recognition features. With the number of connected devices rising at exponential rates, the onus is on developers to come up with powerful companion apps to control/monitor these smart gadgets and systems. Such apps, when working optimally, can help people get a truly unified internet of things (IoT) experience. Smart technology is making rapid progresses in fields like agriculture, communication, city management (smart city development), infrastructure, data analytics, and myriad other fields. The number of apps for wearable devices is also growing rapidly – with Apple Watch and Android Things finding favour among buyers across the world. IoT will be a ~$662 billion industry by 2021, and the trend of making advanced mobile applications for controlling IoT devices with gain further momentum from next year on.
Implementation of Lazy Loading
This is going to be a mighty important mobile UX design trend to watch out for in 2018. Instead of overlaying heavy images on web pages that typically slow down the latter’s loading speed – developers have started to turn to the ‘lazy loading method’ – which ensures that all page elements are loaded only when their turn arrives. That, in turn, means people will no longer have to wait for pictures to load, for reading something on a page/screen. As a result, bounce rates are minimized – and probability of lead conversions (for m-commerce applications) gets a boost. Lazy loading has enabled web and mobile developers to seamlessly shift from ‘sluggish stacking’ to ‘languid stacking’ – ensuring better results.
The growth of mobile commerce and mobile payments
Mobile wallets might not have been the overnight successes many expected – but their adoption stats are starting to pick up pace. Apple Pay, Walmart Pay and Android Pay all showed upward trends this year – with the first emerging as the market leader, with 5.5% adoption in June (Samsung Pay, however, slipped from 4.5% in March to 2.8% in June). With wallet integration, the usage of m-commerce applications is going up rapidly every quarter. In 2018, $96 billion will be transacted digitally through tablets, while transactions of value more than $34 billion will be carried out via smartphones. Integrating ‘AI-powered virtual shopping assistants’ – to bolster the convenience factor of online shoppers – is also something developers are taking an active interest in. In countries like South Korea, Japan, Netherlands and the UK, m-commerce makes up close to 50% of the annual e-commerce volumes. Mobile payments through alternative channels are on the rise.
On-demand applications to become more diversified
Companies like Uber and Lyft have changed the face of cab services on demand. Slowly but surely, many laundry apps are being released – promising prompt, reliable service. In the next year, we can reasonably expect such on-demand apps to grow further, and more importantly, get diversified to cover more areas – ranging from beauty and skincare services, to emergency/healthcare services. The number of food delivery apps and grocery shopping apps are also expected to rise (there are scopes for qualitative improvements too). People are turning towards mobile apps to quickly avail different types of important services – and the onus lies on third-party developers to analyze such requirements and deliver the solutions.
Note: We have worked on a one-of-its king fuel delivery app for iPhone, named FuelUp. You can read about it here.
13. Increase in use of cross platform tools
Compatibility with multiple platforms is an absolute must for most consumer or business applications to deliver maximum usability. If a new app is created solely for the iOS (or Android, for that matter) platform, that limits its potential user base. The importance of efficient, agile cross-platform mobile app development is rising – and multi-featured, developer-friendly tools like React Native, PhoneGap, Xamarin and Appcelerator are being used by developers across the globe. Expect this trend to grow even stronger in the next few years, with these cross-platform tools managing to deliver native app experiences to end-users. The overall time-to-market is being reduced (compared to the situation where iOS and Android versions have to be worked on separately), and app businesses are being able to earn greater value on their products.
14. Proliferation of customized app building platforms
Making a mobile app calls for coding expertise and specialization, right? Well, such apparent barriers to entry are being broken down – with the advent of fully customized and scalable digital app-building platforms. These tools make it easy for practically anyone to make apps (in a matter of minutes) – with their easy ‘drag-and-drop’ options and intuitive controls/features. All that a person has to do is subscribe to such a platform, and then, start to create personalized applications (i.e., most attributes of the app will be added from the backend or dashboard). What’s more, these app-building tools offer insightful data analytics and stats as well. As platforms like Eventify continue to grow in popularity, app-making is indeed becoming mainstream.
Bonus Trend: Android dominating developer mindshare
In terms of revenues from mobile app (i.e., app monetization), iOS continues to rule the roost – with average (median) monthly revenues of more than $500 per application. Median revenues from Android applications fall in the much more modest $100 – $180 range. However, the situation is just the reverse when it comes to developer mindshare. It has been found that 7 out of every 10 mobile developers target the Android platform first. With many experts predicting that revenues from Play Store will surpass that from the App Store soon, Android is set to consolidate its position as the first-choice platform of developers further.
Intel will be showcasing 5G technology at the 2018 Winter Olympics, and the technology is widely expected to witness never-seen-before adoption rates after commercial launch. By 2018, the world will have 2.53 billion smartphone users – and the demands for new, innovative and more powerful apps will continue to soar. The trends discussed above will dominate app-making activities in the next few quarters…that’s for sure.