15 APP MARKET AND TECHNOLOGY TRENDS

11. May 2018 - from Michael Schranz

We are always getting asked about the biggest app and IT trends and whether it would be a good idea to invest in them. Since the software market, and the app market in particular, is extremely dynamic and we can neither see the future nor have superhuman powers, we cannot, of course, relieve anyone of the responsibility for an investment decision. Nonetheless, thanks to our proximity to the market, our own innovation efforts, and our experience in software development over the last 10 years, we are able to assess the most important trends and identify which have potential.

A look at Gartner's Hype Cycle is always helpful to see where the trends are in their development.

Gartner Technology Hype Cycle 2017

Smartness
Probably one of the biggest global trends, which of course has a major influence on many of the sub-trends described here, is SMARTNESS. In connection with digital products, smartness usually means that the app or other software behaves intelligently and reacts smartly to the user’s interactions. It could have a full-blown artificial intelligence (AI) behind it or simply a clever algorithm. Interactions between man and machine will become smarter and smarter in the future, and thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence, in the near future digital products will be also able to solve problems themselves, learn from mistakes, and thus constantly improve themselves.

TREND 1: Blockchain technologies in apps

The hype around the cryptocurrencies Bitcoin, Ethereum, and others has of course also attracted great attention to the underlying blockchain technology. The idea of the blockchain is definitely a greater innovation than Bitcoin itself. A downright gold-rush fever has spread in particular through Switzerland, home to "Crypto Valley" around Zug. Hardly a month goes by without us receiving at least one request for a mobile app that integrates blockchain technologies. The blockchain can be used as an alternative to traditional mBaaS (mobile Backend as a Service) systems, especially to solve challenges related to distributed vs. centralised ledgers. Synchronizing transaction entries across widely distributed mobile users represents a challenge. Some see the blockchain as a possible solution for managing user authentication and of course for financial transactions between users. This trend is sure to continue to strengthen in 2018 and 2019 and both good and bad examples of apps peppered with blockchain technologies will soon be seen on the market. We (Apps with love) are fascinated by these new possibilities opened up by blockchain technology and of course we are always happy to see new approaches, ideas, and business models based on or related to blockchain.

«Blockchain is a technology that will change the way we’ve organised trust and consensus in our society. Blockchain today is like internet in 1993: a decade from now you’ll wonder how society ever functioned without it, even though most us barely know what it is today.»
— by Cryptocruch

TREND 2: Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI)

Another megatrend that will definitely occupy us in the coming years is smartness itself. With the CoreML Library, Apple has developed a machine learning platform especially for iOS 11 and thus strongly pushed the topic for the app sector. The CoreML package comes with ready-to-use machine learning models such as object tracking, text recognition, image recognition, and registration. This platform offers iOS developers a new way to integrate machine learning technologies into apps. We expect apps to become a lot smarter in the coming years and the trend of artificial intelligence (AI) in apps will definitely continue and advance a lot further over the next few years. Today, smart technologies are already being used in the UBER app to analyse user data and base actions on it, such as recommendations for end users.

TREND 3: 5G is coming and it’s lightning-fast!

In 2018, we will encounter this technological leap in the telecommunications industry for the first time. However, it will certainly be a few years before 5G is rolled out more or less across the board in Europe, America, and Asia. What makes this new transmission technology so special? Well, apart from the fact that it allows data transmission about sixty times faster than the current 4G networks, not much will change. However, 60 x faster data transmission will have a big influence on the mobile app economy and open up completely new possibilities. With such speeds, the whole app can be streamed from the cloud and does not have to be installed on a device anymore.

«5G will be the neural network of the physical world. »
— Dr. Wen Tong, Huawei Fellow, Head of Wireless Research and Head of Communications Technologies Laboratories

TREND 4: Augmented reality and virtual reality

Augmented reality and virtual reality applications will increase rapidly in selected areas such as education, industrial production, gaming, medicine, and communications. As soon as there are really good and affordable wearables that are both comfortable to wear and aesthetically pleasing and don't reduce you to a "complete idiot" or "glasshole", this sector will probably grow. Google Glass attempted a comeback with Google Glass 2in 2017, this time clearly focussing on industrial customers. In addition to the growth of AR / VR and MR (mixed reality) applications, the number of wearables manufacturers is also guaranteed to increase again sharply in the next two years. However, the initial hype over VR has also subsided a little and the still-unsolved problems of this technology have come to light or become evident in reality. The VR glasses available today promise complete immersion in a VR world, but only take over the optical part, and even this only within certain limits. Together with the fact that the devices are still pretty heavy, this results in a rather imperfect illusion, the health aspects of which are not yet known.

TREND 5: The cloud is back

The cloud was probably the most frequently used word by IT consultants and IT managers between 2014 and 2016. To begin with, the cloud was a classic hype on Gartner's cycle and has now grown up. According to Cisco VNI Global Mobile Forecast (2015-2020), 89% of all mobile internet traffic in 2018 will be generated via cloud apps! The growth of Mobile Backend as a Service (mBaaS) has made it easier to transfer data from mobile to the cloud and back.

TREND 6: MAPM - Mobile Application Performance Management

This trend, which already started in 2017, will continue at least until 2019. MAPM is about getting the most out of apps throughout their lifecycle and looking at them holistically. Gone are the days when it was enough to develop an app, put it in the app store, and watch how the app was used. In the past, the technical performance of apps was often separated from their economic success. For too long, developers "only" cared about clean and stable code, designers only cared about a nice interface, and marketers were responsible for the distribution, use, and economic benefit of the app. The app market has grown, app users' expectations are much higher today, and tolerance for "imperfect" apps is much lower than a few years ago. A somewhat faulty app with a poor design, long response times, and crashes has no chance these days. In addition to technical perfection, smartness is required in the form of contextualisation, individualisation, interactions, big data analytics, mobile CRM, and genuine user engagement. You only have a chance for long-term success in today's highly competitive mobile app market if you use innovative monetisation strategies, clever Win-Win-Win app referral programmes, and app indexing and deep linking for increased visibility, traffic, conversion, and loyalty. In order to be able to offer app users the right experience at the right time and keep them as committed users in the long run, it is imperative to manage the entire life cycle of the app. Developer tools and platforms that offer comprehensive lifecycle management and MAPM services will grow strongly over the next few years.

TREND 7: Smart chatbots and voice assistants

Chatbots and voice assistants are slowly (and subtly) creeping into our everyday lives. The availability and use of more or less smart chatbots varies considerably from country to country and continent to continent. While chatbots are already more common in Asia (Japan, China, South Korea) and the USA, they are really only just emerging in Europe. Many developers, as well as users, like chatbots, because they don't have to implement or learn a "complicated" user interface design, but can chat as “usual” in a what is known as a "conversational interface". Most of the time, at least in Germany, communication is still in writing, but more and more often it is also possible to interact via speech input and corresponding speech recognition software. Voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana also include smart chatbots with artificial intelligence and are enhanced with self-learning algorithms. Google CEO Sundar Pichai presented "Duplex" at Google I/O. The idea behind Google Duplex is that the Google assistant should be able to make certain calls for users in the future. Users could say, for example, "Hey Google, reserve me a table for four at Tibits for lunch today." The smart chatbot (the AI) would then search for Tibits' phone number, call them up, discuss the table reservation, make the booking, and save it in the user's calendar. According to "Wired Magazine", this new artificial intelligence "Duplex" stole the show from the other topics at the Google conference with its almost creepy phone call. The topic of chatbots within apps, on websites, and in voice assistants will certainly occupy us even more in the coming years. Read more about chatbots in a previous post on the Apps with love blog.

TREND 8: Games & Gamification

The trend of gaming and gamification of all kinds of activities is certainly not new, but will be with us for years to come. People love playing games on smartphones and both the number and quality of these games are increasing. Technological advances in AR/VR (such as Pokémon), high-speed mobile internet (5G), artificial intelligence, and extremely fast processors are making better and better experiences possible. Previously boring activities and processes can be made exciting and interesting through gamification. More and more gamification elements are becoming established in general everyday business life as well.

TREND 9: Google AMP - make the web faster with Google

The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project is an open source initiative led by Google, which aims to optimise web pages for mobile use and thus make the web faster for its end users with smartphones. AMP-optimised pages can also be used for app indexing, giving end users direct access to app content via mobile browsers. AMP-supported sites will probably become the standard in web development over the next two years. Apps can be converted to an AMP site to get the most out of the mobile web. You can find more information on the web: you’d better get on it

«If our site takes a long time to load, it doesn’t matter how great our journalism is, some people will leave the page before they see what’s there. »
— The Washington Post / From the Google AMP case study

TREND 10: Google instant apps

Already launched and rolled out by Google in 2016, we expect strong growth in instant apps in 2018 and 2019. Instant apps make it possible to use content and sometimes even functions of apps without having to download them. Instant apps can be viewed and used in the browser. This not only leads to a compelling user experience, but also enables content to be indexed in Google's search algorithm, making it an important aspect for SEO. In order to develop an instant app, you need app indexing and deep linking, which are described in more detail below as a trend.

«25 percent more clicks on store listing pages and more than 30 percent of users install the game from the instant experience. »
— Jonathan Karmel, product manager for Google Play Instant

TREND 11: Progressive web apps (PWAs)

Progressive web apps are platform-neutral apps based on HTML5 technology that have similar properties to native apps. The advantage of PWAs over native apps is that these web apps do not have to be programmed individually for each platform and function for end users directly in the mobile browser without being downloaded. However, PWAs are still very limited depending on the browser (e.g. Safari) and do not yet come close to the performance and quality of native apps. However, this could definitely change in the next two years. Depending on the app type and usage context, we already recommend our customers develop one PWA rather than two native apps (iOS, Android).

«Progressive web apps are the next natural evolution of the mobile internet.»
— CEO Magento, Mark Lavelle

TREND 12: App indexing & deep linking

The boundaries between native apps and web apps are being weakened by app indexing and deep linking. Similarly to instant apps, app indexing enables app content to be indexed by the Google search algorithm so the indexed app content can be consumed directly in the mobile browser. Deep linking enables users to be led directly to the corresponding content in the app. The browser, and in particular Google search, will thus become a new direct access portal for native iOS and Android apps.

TREND 13: Enterprise apps and enterprise mobile app management

Enterprise apps, which do not appear publicly in stores but are intended for internal use, are still very popular. These often involve process digitalisation and optimisation, better work tools for employees, and mobile access to all important internal information, wherever and whenever, via smartphone. More and more companies have their own enterprise app store, where employees can securely and easily download the company's own apps. Mobile device management (MDM) or mobile application management (MAM) services are increasingly being used to ensure the necessary security and control. These services enable apps to be simply and securely distributed to defined internal user groups and some of them can even access employees' devices and remotely delete apps if (ex-)employees are no longer part of the desired user group. Apps with love has developed its own tool called Updraft App Delivery for distributing (beta) apps to closed internal or even external user groups. This enables us to meet the requirement for easy distribution of apps without an app store, both for beta testing and for purely internal use by our existing customers.

TREND 14: Mobile security & DSGVO compliance

The security of an app and any user data is and will remain an important issue. The data leak at Facebook and, of course, above all, implementing the GDPR, are intensifying the focus on secure handling of user data. The integration of more security features even in early phases of software development will sooner or later become the standard. Consumers will also pay more attention to whether they are downloading an app that gives them the necessary security and a good sense of privacy.

«The GDPR is set to be one of the most impactful pieces of data legislation in a generation. All businesses, large and small, will have an obligation to ensure they are compliant with this complex law when it comes into effect. »
— Industry statement von affilinet, Awin, CJ Affiliate, Rakuten, Skimlinks, Impact Radius, et al.

TREND 15: The Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things is becoming part of our daily lives. Connecting physical (smart) devices to smartphones and the internet can greatly simplify users' lives. It's not just about smartphones being able to remotely control jukeboxes, but about everything being connected to and communicating with everything, where it makes sense. Soon your fridge will do the weekly shopping at the online retailer itself and all you will have to do will be to OK to order via your smartphone. We are working with the start-up Hubware AG to design and develop an all-in-one smart home system that not only lets you control all smart devices in your house, but also performs tasks automatically.

Below is a short video showing what SARAH can do.

Of course, there are also sceptical voices about the Internet of Things, which one should not simply ignore. The more devices are connected to the internet, the more data are generated about and by us, which are often stored in the cloud. This automatically raises security concerns and the question of what happens to all the information collected about our personal smart gadgets and stored "somewhere".

The increase in personal convenience thanks to the smart connection of devices naturally also means that you have to be prepared to release certain data.

Who knows, maybe soon we will have connected our clothes, shoes, bags, cars, and much more to the Internet of Things and find it just as normal as nearly everyone having a smartphone in their pocket like they do today. What is certain is that IoT definitely offers many new possibilities and that the software industry will push further in the coming years.

User-centric agile product development

User-centred product development is not an actual technology trend, but a trend in the development methodology for digital products such as apps and similar. Due to the maturity of the market, only the best ideas and implementations are successful. Slowly but surely, it is becoming understood on the market that the best ideas do not necessarily emerge entirely in-house and that involving the target group and adopting an agile approach also make sense from an economic point of view when implementing these ideas. The need for user research activities is already noticeably increasing in the concept, design, and development phase and will also gain more importance during the entire product life cycle in the future. We have written more about user research in the following blog post: User Research in app development.

«Empathy is at the heart of design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task. »
— Tim Brown, CEO of the innovation and design firm IDEO

Investing in technology trends?

For an entrepreneur in the app economy (= appreneur), it is certainly important to be familiar with the latest developments and to make use of these trends and the associated new possibilities when designing and developing digital products. Provided, of course, that it fits the project, the target group, and the desired benefit.
For existing organisations, from small to large, technology trends are certainly central to steering digital transformation in the right direction and gaining an edge over the competition by using new technologies. It is important, but not always easy, to seize the right moment when you focus on the latest technologies.
Revenues in the Apple app market rose by almost 30% in 2017 compared to 2016. Every year, the number of smartphone and wearable users connected to the mobile internet increases. The entire IT, software, and app industry is undergoing strong growth worldwide. Investing in this economy is certainly not a bad decision.

Sources used for this article and further links

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