If the decade of the 2010’s was to be ever rechristened, ‘mobile app revolution decade’ would be a fairly appropriate name for it. This year, the average number of apps submitted by developers at the Apple App Store has consistently been above the 1000-per-day count, with the peak coming in May (1798 apps submitted per day; 53942 total submissions). Couple that with the fact that the total number of smartphone users worldwide is projected to go beyond 2.15 billion in 2016 – an annual spike of almost 13% – and the growth potential in the domain of mobile app development becomes all the more evident. As we step into the last quarter of the year, this would be a good time to take stock of some interesting mobile app trends to look out for in 2016:
- Security takes centerstage – Before the start of 2015, a Gartner report had forecasted that 3 out of every 4 mobile applications will fail basic security tests. This is an issue that developers have strived to address throughout the year – and the focus will remain in 2016 as well. As is the norm with Apple, its new iOS 9 platform has high-end security features – while Google Android 6.0 Marshmallow would also be beefing up its security protocols. With apps increasingly storing highly sensitive personal information (the growing popularity of NFC payments is a classic example), developers simply cannot afford to gloss over security gaps in their applications.
- Apps for Apple Watch – Google Glass might have come and gone, but interest in wearable technology will remain unabated – thanks to the burgeoning success of Apple Watch. The launch of watchOS 2 (at this year’s WWDC) has significantly upped the challenge for WatchKit developers. The trend will move on, from making app extensions for watch, to applications whose logic resides in the wearable device (fully native apps for Apple Watch are, however, still some way off). A month ago, the total app-count for Watch had hit 10000 – and the figure should at least treble by the end of the second quarter of 2016.
- Rise of the free apps – At present, around 75% of all apps are free, and according to Gartner, this figure should rise to 93% by the end of next year. The key revenue driver for both Android and iOS app developers will be in-app purchases, and the total number of mobile apps will move very close to 310 billion. Interestingly, hybrid apps (or mobile web apps) are likely to grow in popularity. It remains to be seen how much of that actually occurs.
- Importance of cloud-based development – Experts from the field of mobile app development predict that cloud-based applications will rule the roost in 2016 and beyond. The reasons for this is two-fold: firstly, cloud-support will allow developers to keep the actual size of applications small (thereby managing prospective memory/bandwidth issues). Also, cloud compatibility will allow people to sync their applications across multiple smart devices. Cross-functionality between iOS and OS X on one hand, and Android and PCs (albeit to a lesser extent) is growing – and this has got a lot to do with increase in importance of cloud-based apps.
- Apps will be all about user-experience – And this is precisely the reason why developers will have to constantly analyse big mobile analytics data. From the tiny display of Apple Watch, to the steadily increasing screen sizes of the latest iPhones and Android handsets (smartphones and phablets) – an app needs to retain its efficiency and functionality across all devices. This, in turn, infers that cross-platform app development will become more critical than ever in 2016 – and developers proficient in that will have more chances of success.
- Coding for iOS apps to become more ‘Swift’ – Craig Federighi, the software engineering senior VP at Apple, feels that Swift is the ‘next big programming language’ – and there is not much room for doubting this. For starters, iPhone app developers confirm that using the new language is a lot easier than working with Objective-C, which comes with the entire legacy of the C language. What’s more, Swift 2 has been released with a host of new, developer-friendly features – right from error handling to protocol extensions. Developers should still have a working knowledge of Obj-C before jumping on the Swift bandwagon, but this new language is here to stay.
- Shorter app development cycles – As the competition grows, mobile app companies will start focusing on rapid development – which, in essence, means shortening the ‘ideas-to-apps’ development cycle. Technologies like ‘just-in-time’ (JIT) will grow in popularity, along with rapid iterations and a ‘Quick-To-Market’ approach to development (without, of course, compromising on the quality of apps in any way). A quicker app development timeframe will allow companies to survive in this fiercely competitive domain. The absence of delays will please clients too.
- Enterprise apps to soar over consumer apps – By 2016, around 35% of all big enterprises are likely to have their very own app development platforms. Third-party enterprise app developers stand to gain in such a scenario. In fact, at present over 42% enterprise developers boast of a monthly revenue of $ 10000 (something that not even 1 out of 5 consumer app developers can claim). The gap is likely to grow wider over the next year – due to the unwillingness of average users to spend money on apps, and the readiness of enterprises to do so.
- More apps will have location-based support – Platforms like Wi-Fi MX are coming up, to provide users with an array of localised services, like accurate shopping suggestions. Apple has already shown the way with iBeacons, and the iOS platform will provide greater opportunities for developers to continue making apps with smarter location support. It is also expected that Android will play the catch-up game well, and the number of applications in the Play Store with Wi-Fi support will grow at a rapid clip. What remains to be seen is how mobile app developers manage to come up with integrated location-based services in apps, without causing excessive battery drain on users’ devices.
- Expenditure on app ads will rise – Like them or not, in-app advertisement will continue to be a major revenue-earner in 2016. The total spend on app advertising has crossed $7 billion this year, and this will only grow (at an even faster rate) over the next couple of years. Developers will have to focus on managing their ad networks so that: a) they get the maximum revenue benefits, and b) the ads do not hamper the app-experience of users in any way.
Although around 53% of all app developers are already involved in some form of ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), the latter will be present in a big way in iOS and Android app development in the next year. Mobile-commerce applications (with built-in NFC capabilities) are also likely to come into vogue among users. The interest in mobile game development is also on an upward trend – owing to promising returns and handsome download figures. Developing mobile apps will become a $77 billion industry by 2016, and these trends will be the main drivers in this field over the next 12 to 18 months.
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