Happy New Year!

Every year, mobile media becomes more mainstream and popular than the last. This type of media, from mobile websites to apps and games, has also seen both its accessibility and demand sharply increase, creating a large and distinct market all its own. Billions of dollars in production, advertising, and development are spent each year to supply our many devices with new and interesting content. As a result of this massive market, the mobile app development industry is constantly growing and adapting to shifting conditions and needs. To keep pace with the increasing number of mobile devices and users, a huge number of startups and well-known tech companies are consistently putting out new programming languages, frameworks, platforms, and services in what seems like a never-ending stream.

In the mobile market, the first major device on the scene was the smartphone. Tablets soon began to gain popularity, and then came phablets. Now the mobile world is square in the middle of smartwatches, IoT devices, and even VR headsets. Each of these device types requires its own development methods, strategies, and related services — a daunting task for any developer. Additionally, different app types, user types, and use cases require different development, design, and launch approaches. It’s clear that these devices are an increasingly significant part of our lives, and the data shows that today they are also the most critical means of media consumption. Knowing this, the development community must work hard to keep pace, innovating and creating new apps and software experiences across this broad spectrum of devices and operating systems.

Today there are around 1.6 billion users of mobile devices, and by 2018, this number is predicted to grow by 3x or more. Whether you’re a mobile app developer or just an iPhone enthusiast, it’s a good idea to stay in touch with the latest news and trends from the mobile industry. That’s why as 2015 comes to a close, We’ve put together this list of five important mobile development trends we think it’s important to keep your eye on.

1. Swift Is Now Open Source

Last year, Apple introduced a new programming language called Swift for iOS devices. Even more notably, on December 3rd 2015, they made it open source. This means that any developer can now look inside the code language and make improvements or changes. Putting Swift out there in the open-source community is a major step towards improving the development of iOS apps and really bringing the Swift language to the developer masses. But why open source a programming language? Isn’t the Apple iOS brand strong enough already? Well, the key motivation for making Swift open source is that by opening it up, Apple hopes to further its plans to make Swift the dominant programming language in mobile development for the next decade. Before Swift was released, iOS developers had to use Objective-C for iOS apps — a more than 25-year-old programming language. Swift, in addition to having Apple’s full support, provides some significant improvements over its predecessor:

  • Faster performance in applications
  • More efficient coding practices
  • Better protection for common errors
  • and now, it’s open source…

Although Apple will take the lead in keeping Swift modern, other independent developers will invest in learning and be able to contribute to the growth of Swift, helping it shape (and cement) its future. While many first time iOS developers are starting out with Swift, Obj-C is likely to stick around for a while. Many programmers know how to use it and may prefer to stick to what they know and understand. That being said, Apple has clearly pegged Swift as their programming language of the future.

2. Growth of IoT and Wearable Tech

“The future is in the Internet of Things!” For the last few years, we’ve all heard the constant drumbeat that change is nigh, and the IoT is the next big thing. So is this new, interconnected network of things, or “physical objects equipped with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity which enables these components to collect, analyse and share data,” actually getting any traction? 2015 provided the answer and it’s a resounding: Yes. This year we saw major brands make big investments in IoT consumer technology and in creating ways for mobile developers to get involved.

For example, Amazon launched AWS IoT which is a suite of services built to easily and securely connect devices to the cloud and is equipped to scale to billions of devices and trillions of messages. Amazon has also made one of the biggest splashes in consumer IoT technology space with its Dash button. The Dash button is an attachable internet connected “button” that can be connected to your Amazon account, allowing you to order “more of anything” with just a press. Finding ways to integrate real life buttons like the Dash into mobile applications beyond just the Amazon app is something mobile developers should consider in 2016.

Google, never to be left out when innovation is happening, launched Brillo in 2015. This suite of products is aimed at bringing the simplicity and speed of software development to hardware for IoT through an embedded OS, core services, developer kit, and developer console. We’ve also seen the growth of a large marketplace for B2B and industrial IoT products in manufacturing, as reported by Manufacturing Business Technology. These new products and associated services will monitor and track goods in transit, measure freshness in farming and produce, and track production efficiency in plants.

This year also saw great growth and acceptance for wearable technology with the launch of the Apple Watch, several new Android smartwatches, and the continued wide-scale market growth and adoption of Fitbit wearable products. More and more, people are connecting these wearable devices to their smartphones and using their many applications, such as HealthKit by Apple, to monitor and impact their health and fitness.

But what about mobile apps? Mobile developers must consider the IoT and wearable devices in their development process, or in some cases even consider making them a centerpiece of their plans. Fitness applications are a great example. Now the opportunities for tracking and measurement using a smartphone’s accelerometer, GPS, and proximity functions combined with the sensors of wearable technology can finally give users a much more accurate and reliable experience than just a few years ago. Beyond the realms of fitness and health, applications that integrate with IoT and wearables while providing productivity and lifestyle enhancements will be the next big horizon for mobile developers to focus on in 2016.

3. Enterprise Apps

We’ve already discussed how interconnected our world has become, and nowhere is this more strongly felt than in the space of enterprise application development. Enterprise applications are the business apps used internally by millions of businesses around the world to power their many different teams and departments. These are apps you’ll never see on the App Store but often have thousands of daily users; apps that frequently process millions of dollars of business. What makes enterprise apps and their development unique is that the employees inside the enterprises need to be able to use these applications to communicate anywhere and anytime with a range of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices — not just with a single platform. These applications need to be able to tap into and manipulate both legacy and newly built databases. Here are some examples of how enterprise apps are providing a unique opportunity for businesses to improve through the use of mobile applications:

1) Increasing sales team productivity through CRM, sales, and marketing dashboard apps.
2) Reducing maintenance costs through better internal monitoring and error reporting apps.
3) Facilitating project management collaboration between teams, divisions, and departments through internal messaging apps.
4) Connecting employees around the world to engender team unity or optimize system process chains through social, email, and GPS integration apps.

These are just a few examples of mobile application uses inside enterprises. Ultimately, the biggest issue in enterprise app development is how to actually build them. IBM and Apple recently teamed up to try and find ways to bring more Enterprise class applications to the App Store. Having these two major tech players publicly addressing and serving the enterprise app space should indicate just how big of an opportunity there is here.

Currently, one key problem is the shortage of skilled mobile developers necessary to work inside of these enterprises, so many businesses turn to expensive outsourcing contracts or try mobile development platforms like Xamarin. Outsourcing is a big expense, and ultimately isn’t very sustainable for most businesses. Mobile app development platforms that automate the programming of applications are the key for enterprises who need to solve more problems, build more custom applications that fit their own needs, and draw on the skills of their existing workforce.

In 2015, many enterprises turned to development platforms to best make use of the agile, lean, and skilled workforce they already have, and through these products have achieved shorter life-cycles and feedback cycles. But there are many enterprises who are yet to try these products and who continue to either outsource development or have not yet fully embraced enterprise application building. In 2016, we’ll continue to see the need and importance of enterprise app development rise, as well as the surrounding products and services being created to meet this need.

4. The Rise of Hybrid Apps

If you have an iPhone or Android device, chances are you have a mix of mostly native applications with a few hybrid mobile apps on your phone. Essentially, hybrid applications are mobile websites packaged to look and behave like native apps. These apps are built with a combination of web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and usually have a “wrapper” technology that allows them to engage with a mobile device. Many people found some big advantages in building hybrid apps that made them quite popular this year. The biggest and most critical is accessibility.

Hybrid apps can be built by a web developer comfortable in HTML5 and JavaScript. This has allowed a whole population of designers and web developers to build mobile apps this year, and that is a good thing. Building a hybrid app allows for one single code base to deploy to multiple devices and platforms. A few more perks of hybrid apps include their ability to be installed on devices, to be submitted to app stores, and have access device capabilities such as the accelerometer, camera, contacts, and more. Some of the popular hybrid app tools include Ionic, Sencha, and PhoneGap Build.

It should be noted that there are many factors involved with deciding what type of app to build, and in 2016 the importance of having a native app experience will grow. So before you jump right into building a hybrid app, be sure to check out a full post discussing Native, Web and Hybrid apps here.

5. Mobile Gaming

The US and global market for mobile games continues to grow, and mobile game development remains a hot area for getting hired right now. Digi- capital predicts that mobile gaming will generate more revenue than online games or console software (not console hardware & software combined) in 2015, which is a major shift in the market. This year, in this relatively new area of mobile devices, we still saw mobile games take $3 of every $10 spent by gamers on software. 2015 also saw one of the biggest mobile gaming acquisition/mergers with Activision Blizzard buying King Digital, the company behind Candy Crush, for nearly $6B. That’s more than three times the amount that Lenovo paid for IBM’s PC division when they purchased the entire iconic ThinkPad line and associated assets. According to research firm Newzoo, mobile games sales are expected to grow by as much as 21% in 2016 to reach nearly $21 billion, so it’s not hard to understand why many mobile developers are turning their creative focus towards building mobile games.

All of this market data is critical for the mobile developers of the world to consider as they decide their plans for the future: where they want to work and what type of projects they want to work on. One critical issue facing the mobile gaming developer community is how to handle user acquisition and app marketing. One cool company helping mobile game developers capitalize on their early successes to reach more users is Pollen VC, which solves issues involved in the so-called “funding gap” between developers earning and securing App Store revenues and funding early user acquisition efforts.

Important Mobile Development Trends We Can Expect in 2016

After everything that we’ve covered in this article, you can start to see what trends will make mobile app development fun and exciting in 2016.

Here are a few things to look out for next year:

  • Improved advertising and purchasing functionality in apps in response to AdBlock tech.
  • Increased focus on security in apps and platforms after recent loophole discoveries.
  • Substantial growth of the Internet of Things and wearable integrations.
  • More cross-platform and automated app development platforms.
  • More focus and development of internal-use enterprise apps.
  • Better services providing integration with cloud technologies.
  • Increased importance placed on compelling user experiences.

Automated Programming for Apps

We hope you found this roundup of 2015 mobile development trends useful, interesting, and insightful. We’re very excited about what’s to come for mobile development in 2016, and also very excited to be a part of launching a new mobile development platform Dropsource. Dropsource is a Mobile App Development Platform built for results-driven development teams to more efficiently deliver quality software by using automation to convert apps designed in our visual builder into personalized, extendable, and truly native source code.

Sign up for Dropsource here, or check out our blog for more articles like this.