What is the Future of Mobile App Development? 6 Trends to Watch
With smartphones being so ubiquitous today, it can be easy to forget that mobile apps are relatively new. Since the early 1970s, when the first mobile phone was introduced, mobile app development has gone through a number of iterations, changing our lives immeasurably.
There aren’t any signs of mobile app development slowing down. Emerging technologies such as AI, VR, AR, and blockchain are continuously influencing the course of mobile app development, and apps that power phones and wearables frequently take center stage. What is the future of mobile app development?
How mobile app development has evolved over time
The first handheld cellular mobile phone was invented in 1973, but it took another 20 years for the first commercially available cell phones to start paving the way for today’s technology. In 1993, IBM’s Simon was the first phone released with a touch screen and built-in apps, including a contact book and calendar.
Next came the Java-based Blackberry 5810 in 2002. This game-changing device included integrated apps, such as connected wireless email, and helped set the stage for rapid mobile app development. To this day, Java remains the primary development language for Android-based apps.
In 2008, both Apple and Google launched online app stores. Apple’s App Store reached one billion downloads just nine months after launch. In 2021, there were 230 billion first-time mobile app downloads worldwide across Apple and Android devices.
As mobile phones began appearing everywhere and development exploded, apps became increasingly more advanced. While the first apps mainly displayed information based on inputs supplied by the user, many of today’s apps can intuit the user’s needs and provide information even before being prompted to do so.
Here are six trends that mobile app developers will continue to explore in the coming years.
1. 5G lays the groundwork
The hype around fifth-generation wireless technology (5G) has been building for the better part of a decade, but most carriers only started rolling out 5G access in 2021.
The focus of 5G is speed. It’s not just faster than current 4G technology; it’s exponentially faster, capable of operating at 100 times the speed of most existing networks. This matters because it allows users, from individual people to enterprise networks, to connect with wearables, devices, and machines, in addition to phones. Due to its speed being so much higher, information is transferred in milliseconds, reducing latency and providing a better user experience.
Use cases range from simple to complex. A simple use case might be users watching HD videos on their devices without buffering or quality loss. A study from PwC describes a use case where a 5G-enabled healthcare ecosystem — including apps, the internet of things (IoT), and wearables — could allow patients to monitor their health and quality of life better. This could help with identifying diseases earlier and reducing healthcare costs by approximately $2,000 per patient.
2. AR & VR move beyond gaming
Augmented reality (AR) technology imposes artificial images and objects on real-life objects, which is how users can play Pokémon Go while walking around their neighborhood. In contrast, virtual reality (VR) creates an artificial environment. Meta’s Oculus Quest 2, for example, allows users to work out, explore new countries, and watch concerts created in an immersive world—all from their living room. However, AR and VR are no longer solely for gamers; these technologies are rapidly expanding to other industries, including travel, real estate, and retail.
The use of AR technology in the real estate industry is booming, accelerated by an unexpected catalyst: COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, attending open houses in person was no longer a safe option for many. In response, rapid app development helped make virtual at-home walk-throughs possible.
Matterport, a 3D virtual tour platform, created an iOS app in late 2020, allowing home sellers to scan their homes using the LiDAR sensors on their phones or tablets. Previously, that capability was only possible with expensive camera equipment. According to Redfin, a real estate brokerage, 63 percent of buyers who viewed virtual walk-throughs in late 2020 made offers on homes they hadn’t visited in person. Monthly views of 3D walk-throughs via the app were up over 500 percent from February 2020.
3. AI is here to stay
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is by no means a new technology in mobile app development, but as AI and machine learning become more sophisticated, so will app capabilities. For example, algorithms can learn from past user behavior with advanced machine learning and then pull data to predict what may happen next.
Where AI could stand out in future app development is facial and speech recognition — biometric markers that can enhance safety features. Companies, especially those in the insurance and financial sectors, can use AI and machine learning not only to improve user safety and data security but also to help spot fraud. McKinsey estimates the potential annual value of AI for global banking at over $1 trillion.
Identifying and preventing fraud will undoubtedly become even more important as more users employ phones and wearables as payment devices. It is estimated that 2.8 billion mobile wallets were in use worldwide in 2020, and that number may rise to 4.8 billion by 2025. As people use those wallets to complete more sophisticated transactions online, fraud detection companies are creating AI-based technology for banks and retailers to help reduce false positives, increase fraud detection, and minimize investigation time.
4. Blockchain goes beyond cryptocurrency
While the term “blockchain” is most often associated with digital currency, the underlying technology is used in a number of new applications. Simply put, a blockchain is a digital ledger that securely records transactions. Once a transaction is on the blockchain, it’s virtually impossible to alter or remove it. This makes blockchain technology useful for tracking digital assets and securing identities.
Mobile wallets and person-to-person (P2P) payment apps are increasingly using blockchain technology to improve transaction speed and security. It is estimated that 68 million people currently have blockchain wallets. In January 2021, 5.6 million blockchain wallet apps were downloaded.
Because of the added security features, expect to see blockchain technology combined with IoT and smart contracts in the coming years across various industries. For example, working with shipping and logistics companies, IBM found that utilizing blockchain technology helped them reduce costs, improve supply chain inefficiencies, and settle disputes.
5. Wearables can do more
Wearables include watches, earbuds, and other smart devices—even certain articles of clothing. Wearables can fulfill a range of functions, from voice activation for phone calls to helping people keep track of the number of steps they take each day. There are approximately one billion connected wearable devices in use worldwide. In 2021, the wearable technology market was valued at approximately $116 billion, with significant growth yet to come. It’s estimated to climb to $265 billion by 2026.
Consumer electronics make up the most significant share of wearables. Still, there’s increasing interest in using them for purposes beyond simple step counting, particularly in healthcare. For example, some wearables, including Fitbit and Apple Watch, have gotten clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an electrocardiogram app to monitor heart irregularities.
Other features you can expect to see from wearables in the near future include smart app capabilities tied to security. Recently, Apple teamed up with lock manufacturer Schlage to create smart locks that can be opened using an Apple Watch or iPhone. Users can also add a virtual house key to their mobile smart wallet.
6. Security becomes a more pressing issue
As more personal information goes online, fears around consumer security and privacy are increasing. Consumer data is routinely collected to provide better services, especially in use cases involving AI and machine learning, but consumer concerns about personal information getting out aren’t unfounded.
A recent study of popular Android apps by Synopsis found that 63 percent contained open-source components with known security vulnerabilities. That leaves many consumers exposed to having their information hacked or leaked, which could affect customer experience or confidence in an app.
Two innovations are rising to help resolve security issues such as these. One is biometric authentication, which uses eye, facial, fingerprint, or voice recognition to verify a user. This helps to provide the first line of defense against fraud or stolen information and is easy for consumers to use. The other is the use of distributed ledger technology (DLT), of which blockchain is one part. This technology can help boost IoT security on mobile and other smart devices through additional layers of encryption.
What is the future of mobile app development?
The application of existing technologies and the development of new technologies will continue to foster the growth of the mobile app industry. The motivation for developers to get in on the action is obvious: Estimated growth trajectories predict mobile app development will yield over $600 billion in revenue by 2025. And that, it seems, is just a down payment on the rewards of mobile app development.