Since the launch of Apple’s first iPhone ten years ago, the market for mobile applications, apps, has exploded. They existed before the iPhone but in a very different form. Most were games, and the majority of handsets still hadn’t incorporated an app store into the operating system. Apple changed all this and, regardless of what one might think about the company as a whole, the iPhone was a truly revolutionary cell phone.
Apple was the first cell phone designer to plan their device around an app store. They realized early on in development that if they put the tools to make the apps in users’ hands, and made those tools easy to use with plenty of supporting documentation to help new users learn, then the users could develop the apps that would attract new users to the device. Previously, applications for cell phones were designed and built by the phone manufacturers. This meant that every application represented a cost to the manufacturer and this limited the number of applications that would be developed for a particular handset. Apple’s answer to this was as elegant as it was revolutionary; by putting the right tools in the hands of its users they ensured that the only limits on what apps would be created were the limits on their users’ imaginations.
Over the last 10 years, since the launch of the first iPhone, smartphones have become ubiquitous. In fact, even budget phones now resemble smartphones, and features such as built-in cameras, capacitive touch screens, and expandable storage options are now the norm. Because the general hardware used in smartphones is similar across different manufacturers and product lines, at least in terms of functionality, many app developers choose to port their apps so that they can be released on iOS and Android, the two most common mobile operating systems. Below we take a look at some of the trends in app design which look set to dominate the market over the coming year.
Small Business Apps
Many major brands now offer smartphone apps for a variety of purposes. Fast food restaurants that operate a home delivery service, for example, often produce apps that allow easy ordering. Smaller businesses are increasingly looking to follow this lead and produce apps designed to help drive up business in a number of ways. Offering app-specific discounts and loyalty programs are two of the more popular ways small businesses are using custom built apps to their advantage.
Augmented reality is a concept that has been around for some time, but has only recently started to mature to a point where it is consumer friendly. Augmented reality is similar in nature to virtual reality, but rather than immersing the user entirely in a virtual world while removing them from their surroundings, augmented reality provides a virtual overlay that blends the digital and real worlds. A few years ago, Google demoed the prototype of its smart glasses, dubbed ‘Google Glass’. The idea is that once the necessary technology becomes cheaper to produce and implement, Google Glass can be paired with a smartphone so that if a user uses the GPS functions on their phone to map a route between two points, the directions can be overlaid in the real world through the Google Glasses.
In the meantime, while smart glasses remain prohibitively expensive for consumers, a number of companies are producing apps that use the phone’s camera to display whatever is in front of the user on their screen and then augment this on the phone display.
In addition to its use as an adjunct to GPS or mapping software, augmented reality has a great deal of potential when it comes to gaming apps. Pokémon Go was released last year and was an instant hit. The game makes use of the phone’s GPS in order to track where the user is in the real world, with Pokémon spawning around the player depending on their location. When the player encounters a Pokémon, they can use the phone camera to show the Pokémon overlaid against the real world.
Augmented reality certainly has some way to go before it reaches its full potential, but it is already proving to be a very versatile technology with a whole range of potential applications.
Apps to Make Apps
There are already a number of apps available for smartphones and tablets that teach users how to program. Some of these contain runtime environments that allow the mobile device to emulate the appropriate responses to commands in various coding languages. More sophisticated apps can be used to create other apps and this is one of the key trends that will influence the way app developers approach their craft. There are now even websites that will allow you to design an app in your web browser, such as the ADP portal. This is a natural extension of the philosophy which has underpinned the user-driven creation of apps for some time now.
Cloud Services Apps
High end smartphones have no problem running demanding 3D applications; in fact, the best smartphones perform on par with many mid-range laptops. Still, though, the majority of smartphone owners across the globe aren’t carrying the very latest high end cell phones with them. With mobile data becoming ever cheaper, it is becoming more and more feasible to set up cloud services so that when an app needs to perform a particularly complex task, it can send a command to a cloud server fitted with some very high end hardware, have the server perform the necessary processing, and then send the result back to the user’s phone. Cloud services are already extensively used with mobile apps as a means of data storage, retrieval, and backup.
By the end of 2017, the global app market is expected to generate around $77 billion. With that much money in play, it is no surprise that increasing numbers of people are learning to design and code apps of their own, while large and small businesses alike are finding new and creative ways to use apps to improve their overall performance.