Mobile App Trends: 2016 and Beyond

countryside-384624__180As the mobile ecosystem has evolved it has become much more dynamic and flexible. The concept of Mobile First is fading as any particular mobile device is becoming a less important endpoint for a broader system in the cloud. This is driving new ways of thinking about mobile apps and how we build and engage with them. Apps must be more adaptive and less prescriptive.

Greater focus on engagement and iteration

Downloads are no longer a metric for success but engagement differentiates a marginal app from a great app. Accessing data and delivering a dynamic and evolving experience is core to a mobile strategy.

The feedback loop

As the mobile app ecosystem has begun to mature, priorities are changing rapidly. Focus has shifted from getting an app built and to market to a more iterative process where apps are constantly improved. The use of analytics to understand how users are engaging with an app is leading to improvements that are quickly being incorporated into updates. Release cycles are lighting fast with 42.6% of, self-identified leaders, releasing updates weekly or bi-weekly, according to an Appcelerator survey. This increased velocity is being supported by, and driving demand for, more dynamic testing and streamlined development through DevOps.

Right time communications and engagement

App developers will also get smarter and more effective at engaging with users through more personalized and contextual messaging and content. The integration of predictive analytics and messaging will make apps more valuable to marketers and drive greater loyalty. The challenge for developers will be integrating historical and real-time data. Although there is still a steep learning curve to climb, applications that get this strategy right are going to pull ahead of their competitors.

Adopt tooling to existing technologies and communities

With the limited supply of mobile developers still constricting market growth, vendors are looking for new ways to support the existing skillsets in the market. Tool and platform vendors are realizing that they cannot continue to grow without engaging new populations of developers and business managers. Vendors are not going to be able to grow if they force prospects to learn new skills and languages. They must be more adaptive to the existing skills in the current marketplace. This shift in mindset will lead to better tooling and an increasing number of quality apps.

New JavaScript frameworks

One example of this trend is the emergence of new frameworks to support the use of JavaScript in mobile apps. Mobile operating systems have opened up access to the JavaScript engines in their platforms. With this access, using JavaScript Frameworks, developers can access native UI components and APIs with JavaScript. This approach is a step beyond Webviews as apps built using these frameworks are built in JavaScript but run natively. This means that apps are easier to build than pure native apps but perform better than hybrid apps and have a native and consistent look and feel.

Prominent JavaSctipt frameworks include:

The emergence of JavaScript frameworks may negate the debate between native and web as developers may not have to choose between performance and ease of development. Consequently, both developers and users win with more apps performing better.

Embracing the citizen developer

Last year was a big year for the citizen developer as the number of options seemed to explode. An overwhelming number of standalone codeless platforms emerged and established development platforms created new drag and drop features.

Not surprisingly developers are not too impressed with the capabilities of these offerings but they are not the target market. Where developers are seeing value from codeless platforms is through their ability to rapidly prototype apps to quickly solve business problems.

The biggest challenge codeless app platforms are facing is helping small and medium size businesses to take the first steps toward a mobile app strategy. Only 15% of SMB’s have apps. With limited bandwidth to figure out new software, many medium-sized businesses are opting to just hire a development house to create their apps. In many cases, these businesses may not consider the entire lifecycle of the app and miscalculate the expense required to keep the app up to date and driving value.

In 2016, we expect more codeless app platforms to create service offerings that will help businesses design and build their mobile strategy. This will help smaller business get more out of their mobile technology and move off the fence with their mobile strategy.

Improved Java Support

Another example of this trend is the improved support for Java. Xamaran has bought RoboVM to support Java Developers on their platform. Sencha launched GTX4 to enable developers to create feature rich web apps with Java. Google has also looked to the broader Java community to support the next version of Android, announcing that they will move the Android Java Library’s to the OpenJDK to consolidate code bases. Also, Java 9 will support greater modularity helping to make it more accessible and popular, leading to the next global trend.

Architectures and UI’s become more modular, granular and connected

Both front end and back end architectures are becoming more modular and connected.  A number of innovations are leading the market in this direction.

Microservices

The use of microservices in the back end are enabling development teams to operate more efficiently and create more flexible apps. Microservices are small back end services that are can be developed independent of other microservices but can be connected together via APIs to create a complete service. They enable more flexible development organizations and are easier to maintain and scale as they can be updated and debugged independently.

Cards and deep links

In the front end, the idea of a standalone mobile app is also beginning to change. Cards that present small pieces of info on the home screen are gaining traction. Deep links that can link content inside one app or card to specific pages in a completely different app are also gaining in popularity.  These developments will change the mobile experience as walls between apps will become much more porous and eventually disappear.

Chatbots

The idea of a monolithic mobile app that presents users information is also facing disruption by the emergence of chatbots. Instead of users opening and navigating an app to retrieve information, the convergence of simplified messaging and chatbots will enable users to message brands in natural language and receive replies from chatbots. This approach sidesteps the entire app experience. These chatbots also have the potential to become the user interface for microservices. To get your bank account balance, you will just have to text a chatbot that will access a “balance Microservice” at your bank and text you back your balance.

Bottom line

While some of these trends and technologies are just coming on the scene, some are gaining traction. What is clear is that walls are coming down and the app is becoming more malleable. Consequently, any competitive advantage achieved by mobile apps will increasingly be fleeting.