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16 Mobile App Trends for 2020 and Beyond: Top Forecasts According to Experts

Category: B2B News

On November 2, 2018, Blizzard Entertainment unveiled a new game on their long-running Diablo franchise–a mobile-only game called Diablo Immortal. Speaking on the podium at the game publisher’s annual Blizzcon, the lead game designer responded to boos by saying, “Do you guys not have phones?” And while it has made the rounds on the internet as a joke, no developer who knows the state of app trends in 2020 is laughing.

Mobile games notwithstanding, mobile app development in 2020 is going to be much bigger and faster. This will be thanks to new technologies like 5G and edge computing, but it will also be because of changing attitudes toward apps in general. In 2020, a question such as “Do you guys not have phones?” will be even more critical and urgent as our society becomes more anchored on mobile devices and, by extension, mobile applications.

In this article, we look at what apps we can expect in 2020 and beyond. How are apps going to use 5G? Will apps be more ubiquitous not only in phones but in wearables as well? To understand where we’re going in the next few years, perusing our application development software reference guide is an excellent way to start.

latest mobile app developments

Your mobile app consumption is likely to have grown rapidly in the last few years. And you’re not alone.

All of it is due to the swift and widespread adoption of smartphones. The International Data Corporation (IDC) cites a 1.39 billion unit shipment of mobile phones in 2019, and the year hasn’t ended yet. The recent release of newer phones like the iPhone 11 and the Pixel 4 XL and the coming holidays will likely increase total unit purchases before 2020 comes.

Your increasing reliance on smartphones also correlates with the growth of mobile applications. Estimates place mobile app trends to be largely dependent on demand for app development, which will outpace the capacity of developers to deliver it by as much as five times. This means that brands should leverage cutting-edge techniques to shorten app development times while minding how iOS and Android differ from each other and their respective customers.

android vs iOS visual representation

Source: The Lancet

Knowing which way the wind is blowing means distinguishing the drivers of mobile app future trends–technology and social need. As such, we’ve compiled sixteen predictions that will make waves in 2020, or at least create the foundations for a mobile world into the next decade. This should help you position your business the best way you could.

1. 5G

5G, the 5th generation of the mobile connectivity standard, is coming soon. It will change mobile apps and app development in a way we’ve never thought possible. 5G is also said to herald the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but what does the adoption of 5G mean for mobile apps?

It all boils down to 5G’s speed and interconnectivity. Unlike its predecessor, 5G’s latency is less than one millisecond. Compare this to human reaction time, which is up to 300 milliseconds, and 5G virtually feels almost instantaneous. Besides, 5G’s combination of extremely low latency, high bandwidth, and connection density will open up app development in fields like the Internet of Things (IoT), AR and VR, connected driverless vehicles, wireless health, and more. Next-generation apps will leverage this power and speed to do things we’ve never thought of before.

On the more immediate side, increased speed and reduced latency will also be able to lower battery consumption. Lowell McAdam, the head of Verizon, claimed that 5G’s speed will move computational power to the “edge,” removing the processes that drain smartphone batteries. Furthermore, 5G’s higher radio frequency and shorter wavelengths will also make more precise geotargeting and geofencing for mobile apps.

what 5G can do

A chart by Nokia showing the axes of evolution of cellular networks in the future. 5G can do all these (Source: Nokia).

Key takeaways:

  • 5G is coming and will herald the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • This new standard promises extremely low latency, high connection density, and high bandwidth.
  • Among other things, 5G will also feature more precise geolocation and reduced battery consumption (Mobile World Live).

2. Edge Computing

The cloud and big data confer benefits to businesses. The former has been hailed as one of the greatest perks of the internet, but it’s quickly showing its age. The trouble with the cloud is that it’s highly centralized, which makes latency a big deal for technologies that 5G promises. However, one of the best ways to fulfill those promises is to use edge computing.

Edge computing is an evolution of the cloud. It will literally move the cloud near the user by making some of your computational needs processed either locally or on the nearest station—the “edge” of the cloud. Brands are now waking up to the benefits of edge computing, which is why estimates see that in the next few years, enterprise data sent to a central cloud server would drop to 25%.

And what happens to the cloud? It goes nowhere—it just goes into your device. When edge computing is widely adopted, your device itself becomes part of the cloud, which removes some of the latency issues. This means that 5G’s brave new world of wireless, autonomous cars, and the IoT will all be taking cues from edge-powered devices. B2B mobile app trends also point to the rising importance of edge in the future.

edge computing in mobiledge architecture

An example of an edge computing architecture by MobiledgeX.

Key takeaways:

  • Edge computing brings the cloud to your device or the nearest station.
  • It removes latency issues associated with cloud computing.
  • In the next few years, 90% of enterprise data sent to the cloud will be reduced to 25% due to the edge.

3. Progressive Web Apps and “Instant” Apps

Progressive web apps (PWAs), are hybrid applications natively supported by Android. While Apple is hesitant to adopt the Google-coined term, the first idea of apps was originally close to PWAs during the introduction of the first iPhone, as a web page using app functionalities and can be saved on the home screen. Steve Jobs called them then “home screen web apps.” Over a decade later, app trends in iOS show the first signs of support for PWAs, albeit in a limited function, in iOS 13.

PWAs are a hybrid between web pages and apps. One of the best advantages of these apps is that they take less time to develop than normal apps because they are simply websites with app functionalities. On the other hand, they have expanded utility than simply being web pages as you can save them on your home screen, and they avoid some of the disadvantages of an app.

For example, an app loses 20% of potential users at every step between a user’s first encounter with an app and using the app. A PWA avoids this problem because once the user first sees it, they can start using it immediately.

PWAs, like instant apps that “stream” on-demand data as you use the app without downloading and installing it, will play a huge part in 2020’s mobile app ecosystem. App trends in Android are normally more innovative than those of iOS. Still, the rise of edge computing, as mentioned above, will likely move to a direction where apps no longer need to be installed or will simply store important data in your device’s local cache to be used only when needed.

Key takeaways:

  • 20% of potential users are lost at every step between a user’s first encounter with an app and using it (Gabor Cselle).
  • PWAs and “instant apps” are web page-app hybrids that promise instantaneous usage the moment you see it, without installing anything.
  • Downloadable apps will soon become relics as development moves to on-demand app services instead, similar to desktop SaaS.

4. Wearables

The IDC predicts that by the end of 2019, 198 million wearable units would have been sold. Of this figure, 44% would be dominated by watches, such as the ubiquitous Apple Watch, but other wearable devices would see a steady rise as well. One of the most exciting is smart clothing, which is already quite fashionable in China but is being explored by Nike and others for a Western debut.

The wearable market is maturing. According to Statista, there will be 1.1 billion connected wearables in 2022. Mobile app development trends point to the fact that development of these devices is a heady gold rush. Not only would websites and apps work on mobile devices as well as desktops, but they should work seamlessly for wearables. This would make configuring them a challenging task, but it would soon become apparent that smartphones would be as passé as desktops are now to mobiles.

US Adult Wearable Market Penetration, 2018–2022

PERCENTAGE

2018

2019

2020

2021

2022

Source: eMarket 2018

Designed by

Key takeaways:

  • 198 million units of smart wearables will be sold by the end of 2019 (IDC).
  • 44% of these will be smartwatches, like the Apple Watch (IDC).
  • There will be 1.1 billion connected wearables by 2022 (Statista).

5. Beacon technology

One of the most useful things in a modern smartphone is its GPS, which allows you to do lots of things, from calling an Uber to having a pizza delivered to your doorstep (which are on-demand apps—more on them later). Smartphones use multiple methods to give you your location data. Sometimes, businesses can use this data to offer you their wares or at least provide useful services. One such way is through the use of beacon technology.

A beacon is a low-energy Bluetooth device that sends a one-way signal to another device, particularly to a mobile phone. The way this works is when you enter a certain area, a nearby establishment may detect your phone and send you a notification alerting you of their proximity. If you think this is a good way to do multichannel marketing, it’s because it is—it’s originally envisioned for that purpose.

But it’s not all just about retail. It can direct users to contextual information they need, such as promotions and wayfinding. One of the best examples of this is the Levi’s Stadium, which used over a thousand beacons to direct users to their seats.

beacon technology use in Levi's Stadium

Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, uses beacon technology to direct event-goers to their seats. (Credit: Jim Bahn)

Beacons offer a personalized experience. People are 19 times more likely to engage with a product when it’s advertised using a beacon. Native apps that capitalize on beacon technology and integrate it seamlessly with the beacon signal will thus, expedite a conversion or enhance the interaction between the customer and the brand. Beacons can even be used for augmented reality and mobile payments.

Key takeaways:

  • Beacon technology can offer location-specific information to users’ phones.
  • It uses a low-energy Bluetooth signal to send data to another Bluetooth-capable device, like a smartphone, to provide information or services.
  • A successful example of beacons in action is in Levi’s Stadium, which uses beacons to direct guests to their seats.

6. mCommerce

Which brings us to the next part of the discussion: mobile payments. Beacons will become key aspects of mcommerce as they can facilitate payments in tandem with mobile wallets, which look to supplant the physical plastic of credit and debit cards. But mobile commerce—itself a part of global ecommerce trends—is more than just a method of payment—it spans other disciplines and applications.

Mobile apps that utilize some form of mcommerce method will likely be more prevalent in 2020 more than they were in the past. To illustrate, 79% of smartphone users have made some form of purchase from their phones. This is not merely an ecommerce trend. Paying through a virtual mobile wallet can take the monotony away from standing in line or waiting for bank approval. Apps that leverage this, either as a wallet or an ecommerce platform, will see more use and adoption in 2020 and beyond.

Yes Lifecycle Marketing found out the mobile average order value (that is, the percentage of people who check out orders on their phones) has achieved parity with desktop’s for the first time in 2018. This means that brands will have more incentive to create apps that can speed up and simplify the ordering process on their phones. And, with mobile commerce this strong as we head into a new decade, more on-demand platforms will rise as people will always choose ease and convenience. Or, on the other side of the equation, to earn extra dough.

Key takeaways:

  • Beacons can also facilitate mobile payments.
  • 79% of smartphone users have paid through a virtual or mobile wallet at least once (Outer Box Design).
  • The average order value of mobiles has achieved parity with that of desktops for the first time in 2018 (Yes Lifecycle Marketing).

7. More On-demand Apps

On-demand apps are kind of like a “third party” where users can hire a service or a product. One of the foremost examples is Uber, where the service in question is a ride. On-demand apps fulfill other demands—hence, the name—in a variety of fields like food, logistics, groceries, accommodations, and more when and where the users need them.

There are countless on-demand apps in 2019, but 2020 and beyond looks to be the same—just probably more of them. Newer technologies will obviously make new demands apparent, and people will think of more ways to make their lives easier, which on-demand apps can fill. Luxuries will also become necessities as on-demand apps penetrate every facet of life, from the home to your career, to travel, and much more.

Annual Spending on On-Demand Services, 2019

All figures in billions USD

Online marketplace

Transportation

Food or groceries

Others

Source: Magneto IT Solutions

Designed by

Edge computing and 5G can also make hitherto impossible on-demand services happen. For example, drop-offs (or rescue efforts) in remote wildernesses can soon be possible thanks to on-demand delivery and a space-based 5G network, including SpaceX’s touted Starlink constellation.

Key takeaways:

  • On-demand apps can provide services on demand, such as Uber or Airbnb.
  • There will be more on-demand apps and services in 2020 because of newer technologies.
  • The coming of 5G and edge computing will likely create the need for more on-demand services.

8. AI

Machine learning (ML) can significantly reduce the time spent on developing apps. In a few years, we can even see artificial intelligence (AI) writing apps by themselves. Just last year, Rice University researchers have created Bayou, an AI platform that can write code on its own. It does this by reading millions of lines of code written in Java. It only required minimal input from a programmer to create a program autonomously.

bayou deep learning AI web interface

The web interface of Bayou, Rice University’s deep learning AI.

This is an extreme example, but it’s one of the things that will be possible once AI becomes more mainstream. AI and ML  can optimize app development, but they can also reduce errors human programmers would have overlooked. Existing apps now incorporate AI elements, including chatbots, but some personalize certain elements of a customer order. For example, the fast-food chain McDonald’s is leveraging big data and AI to personalize its drive-thru menus based on factors like the customer, time of day, or the weather.

It’s clear that app development in 2020 and beyond should utilize some form of AI to benefit its users. Chatbots are a start for any retailer, but you can also start expecting AI-powered apps on wearables and phones that control an IoT ecosystem.

Key takeaways:

  • AI and machine learning can optimize and shorten app development time.
  • Researchers have already made the first AI that can write code autonomously (Rice University).
  • The glut of data means brands should use AI to sift through and analyze pertinent data for their brands (Wired).

9. Bots

Chatbots are nascent at the moment, but in 2020 and beyond, their adoption and implementation will become more commonplace. According to Grand View Research, chatbots (which include stand-alone chatbot apps and chatbot integration in messaging applications) will be a $1.25 billion market by 2025.

Advances in ML, AI, and natural language processing (NLP) will also make chatbots more effective. Communication with them will become more organic, using techniques like facial and voice recognition, sentiment analysis, and semantic search.

These bots will also be part of the rapidly growing IoT ecosystem. In fact, chatbots like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana are considered mobile applications in themselves whose UI will be the user’s voice itself. In such a case, chatbots will become a central “smart hub” of applications and IoT-enabled devices.

Key takeaways:

  • The chatbot industry will be worth $1.25 billion by 2025 (Grand View Research).
  • AI techniques like NLP, facial and voice recognition, sentiment analysis, and semantic search will make chatbots more “human-like”.
  • Chatbots will become the go-between between humans and the IoT, with its “UI” being voice itself (Peerbits).

10. Personal “Smart Hubs”

Speaking of a smart hub, phones are going to be the central hub of IoT-enabled devices using apps as a sort of an API. Apps in smartphones will interface with wearable and other devices, making phones a control center or a central dashboard. The likely universal app that can do this is a voice assistant or a chatbot.

This will lead to new product and service ranges centered on and around phones as a smart hub. One present-day example is the Audi AI:Trail Quattro. It’s an off-road vehicle that uses a smartphone as its dashboard and requires a special app to interface with the car’s CPU.

smartphone as central dashboard

Audi’s next-generation off-roading vehicle uses a smartphone as its central dashboard. (Source: Wheelsage.com)

Key takeaways:

  • Phones will assume a new role as a central control panel of IoT devices and wearables called the personal smart hub.
  • These will require special apps to interface with other connected devices, but the easiest is to enable a chatbot or voice assistant as a “go-between” between humans and the IoT.
  • One present-day example of such a concept is a smart vehicle like the Audi AI: Trail Quattro.

11. Augmented and Virtual Reality

Who hasn’t heard of Pokémon Go? When it launched in mid-2016, it exposed the mainstream to how augmented reality can transform mobile apps, from games to retail. As of September 2018, the game has reached $2 billion in in-app purchase revenue (IAP), a feat that it has achieved in only 811 days.

These days you can see augmented reality components in mobile apps. They’re also used in multichannel and omnichannel efforts, with physical retailers like IKEA and Uniqlo using AR applications to preview products before they are bought. Some even use an MR, or mixed reality, which draws elements from both VR and AR, like the Microsoft HoloLens.

mixed reality vs virtual reality vs augmented reality

A simple graphic guide to differentiating among VR, AR, and MR. (Source: Infinityxvr.com)

The success of AR and VR will force mobile app developers to incorporate AR elements to drive revenue and interactivity. This is why Statista predicts that the combined market share of AR and VR in 2023 will be $160 billion.

Key takeaways:

  • Pokémon Go is one of the first mainstream uses of augmented reality and has proven so popular, it reached $2 billion in revenue in just 811 days (Apptopia).
  • The success of Pokémon Go incentivizes app developers to incorporate AR into their mobile apps, such as IKEA and Uniqlo.
  • The combined market share of AR and VR will be $160 billion by 2023 (Statista).

12. Accelerated Mobile Pages

AMPs are an open source project by Google and Twitter, which aims to make pages load faster. As you can surmise from the name, accelerated mobile pages improve web page load time by minimizing unnecessary code. This means pages load much faster and use less data.

For example, Google reports that AMPs load less than a second on average and use 10 times less data than a non-AMP page.  This is just indicative of Google’s mobile-first thrust, which means they place mobile-responsive higher on search results.

What does that mean for app development, though? AMPs will never replace apps totally, but it will make low-quality apps obsolete. With the recent shift in progressive web apps and streaming apps, some apps will rather use AMP protocols instead of clogging up the App Store or the Google Play Store. As a result, you will get more relevant, mobile-friendly applications in addition to lightning-fast PWAs.

Key takeaways:

  • AMPs are an open-source project by Google and Twitter.
  • Accelerated mobile pages load less than a second and use 10 times less data (Google).
  • These pages will make low-quality apps obsolete and make PWAs more relevant.

13. Blockchain

There is no doubt blockchain is one of the best ways to secure data, whether they be a record of transactions (as in cryptocurrencies) or documents. However, one of the top things that blockchain can do to influence app development is the use of dapps, or decentralized apps.

As you can glean from the name, decentralized apps use blockchain so data is not “centralized” in one server or company, which may have some form of control over how this data is used. A decentralized Twitter, for example, will be immune to censorship, as data inputted in a blockchain-powered dapp cannot be removed or modified. Dapps will also need BaaS, or blockchain-as-a-service, which allows them to use blockchain services on the cloud to host, develop, and maintain their platforms.

dapp is graining ground

The move to blockchain-hosted dapps will also make more traditional apps open source. This means the source code will be available to everyone, whether to be modified or to be checked. In a decentralized nature, however, being open source will make the proposed changes to an app needing unanimous approval by a majority of users before they’re implemented. In a way, the improvements in an app will be what most users deem to be necessary, functional, and acceptable.

Key takeaways:

  • Blockchain’s inherent security makes it attractive to a new form of app called decentralized app, or dapp.
  • Dapp is not centralized in one server or government, allowing it to be free of censorship.
  • Most dapps will also use BaaS or blockchain-as-a-service to use blockchain service on the cloud to develop and maintain their dapp platforms.

14. Predictive analytics

As of 2019, there are over 4.3 million apps for iOS and Android, the two largest mobile app stores. However, only a small fraction of these apps will be successful—in fact, only 0.01% of them (about 430). So what makes successful apps? And is there a way for an app developer to know which aspects of an app will draw users?

Enter predictive analytics.

Retailers often use predictive analytics to personalize the products for each customer. An article in the New York Times described how Walmart used data mining to find out that sales of strawberry Pop-Tarts increased by seven times, just like beer, right before hurricanes hit. Armed with such data, Walmart stocked their shelves with these items when a forecast for hurricanes is on the news.

It makes prediction of future events using available data, employing techniques like machine learning, data mining, and statistics. Using these analytics, developers can take actions, such as adding or removing features, which can make apps a hit for its users. In 2020 and beyond, elements of apps (or entire applications themselves) will become more personalized, such as UI or UX, to make customer experience in that certain app tailored to who’s buying.

Key takeaways:

  • There are currently 4.3 million apps across Android and iOS, but only 0.01% of them will be successful (Statista).
  • Predictive analytics can be used to design and develop apps that will be a hit for customers, including certain elements of the app.
  • Retailers often use predictive analytics, such as Walmart’s famous 2004 data mining episode (The New York Times).

15. Cross-Platform Apps

There are 24,000 different Android phone models, all with their own version of Android and hardware specs—and that’s four years ago. To these add the iPhones that have a different mobile application ecosystem altogether. What’s a developer to do when they need to write for BOTH devices? Write for each, separately, because writing for one doesn’t mean it’s going to run in the other. A cross-platform framework, however, can eliminate this problem.

A cross-platform framework can allow an app to run on the two major mobile operating systems. Developers who use cross-platform frameworks write the code only once, saving time and money writing natively for either OS. Among other things, using such a framework offers several benefits like consistency of UI, code reusability, reduced marketing costs (and time), and fewer technical hurdles. 2020 will see more of these frameworks gain more widespread use as we enter an era where code simplicity and consistency are critical.

Three popular cross-platform frameworks command 70% of the market: PhoneGap, Xamarin, and Unity. PhoneGap, owned by Adobe (formerly Apache Cordova) uses HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript, which most developers already know and both OSes support. Other platforms include Xamarin, a Microsoft-owned framework that uses C# and .Net as its language, and Unity, a 2D/3D engine that can create games for different platforms, including Windows OS.

Cross-platform apps

Key takeaways:

  • Writing code for each of the 24,000 different Android phone models and iPhones need to be consistent.
  • Cross-platform frameworks can allow a developer to code only once, but let the app run in both OSes.
  • Several cross-platform frameworks exist, the most popular of which use HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, and C#—things that developers know already and are supported by both operating systems.

16. Low-code App Development

Like cross-platform app development frameworks, organizations can use low-code app development frameworks to hasten app development times. This is attractive on many levels, because businesses may not always have the resources or the time to develop an app. A low-code (or sometimes no-code) platform can allow an organization to design and develop an app without coding experience.

Such platforms can decrease the complexity of app development. Low/no-code app development is usually straightforward, which uses drag-and-drop actions and intuitive UI to create an app. These platforms will likely not be the end of traditional coding for apps, but they will become a common way for businesses to make their first apps without needing to hire an app developer or outsourcing it.

In 2020, low/no-code app development will likely exist alongside traditional ways of developing an app. It may be used to check code or create a small iteration of an existing app. The necessity of saving money will also make these platforms more commonplace in the years to follow.

Key takeaways:

  • Organizations can use low/no-code development frameworks to speed up the app development process.
  • It’s also cost-effective, as businesses can create an app without having to outsource it or hire an app developer.
  • Low/no-code app development will exist alongside traditional app development in 2020 and beyond.

 

The Next Great Leap in Mobile App Development

“Do you guys not have phones?” is a question that, while meant to be humorous, should be the mantra of every mobile app developer moving forward. Desktops will become more and more irrelevant to consumers, especially in retail, and a mobile-centric ecosystem will dominate the landscape. New technologies like 5G, edge, and wearables will lead the charge. Developers should mind these newfangled tools in their iterative process.

As new tools become available or more mature, our app trends report expects that app development is going to be faster and more streamlined than ever.

This is true whether you are looking at app trends iOS or Android app trends.

An increasing reliance on AI and ML, as evidenced by our machine learning statistics, will make development exponentially faster than the preceding generation. New vistas of development techniques and disciplines will also open up in the wake of personal smart hubs and mobile commerce.

To that end, this article—while certainly not a roadmap—may serve as one of the first of many writings on the wall. A world on the go needs apps that can keep up. And keeping up with development means a streamlined, agile team. Our guide on project management tools may just be the thing you need to shorten and optimize your mobile app development time.

By Nestor Gilbert

Senior writer for FinancesOnline. If he is not writing about the booming SaaS and B2B industry, with special focus on developments in CRM and business intelligence software spaces, he is editing manuscripts for aspiring and veteran authors. He has compiled years of experience editing book titles and writing for popular marketing and technical publications.

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