Top 10 Mobile App Development Trends to Follow in 2021

We have so many expectations towards 2021, don’t we? Everyone wants to forget 2020 even happened. We should’ve just skipped this year, to be honest, instead of being gassed it’s a new decade and yadda-yadda. But since that’s impossible and the 2020 wasn’t as horrible for the IT companies as it was for gastronomy, for example, let’s have a look at what the next year is most likely preparing for the mobile apps market.

Table of content

  1. Subscription-based services
  2. 5G technology
  3. m-commerce
  4. Blockchain
  5. Wearables
  6. Augmented Reality
  7. Event streaming
  8. Flip phones
  9. Edge computing
  10. IoT
  11. Cloud-native
  12. Epilogue

Subscription-based services

Subscription-based business models have been with us for years now: Spotify, Netflix, Google Workspace, we all know about them and there’s no surprise they’re prospering. What I think will happen now, and it’s already started happening in late 2019-2020, is more and more companies will jump on this trend and provide access to their product via subscription-based model, potentially in the sectors we don’t expect.

For instance, the gaming industry is currently putting tons of effort into making gaming a cloud industry, essentially breaking the current need of keeping updating your PC hardware or buying new consoles to play more and more sophisticated titles. Google is pushing their Stadia, NVIDIA has its GeForce Now, Microsoft’s making advances with their XBOX Cloud Streaming services. And it’s obviously being pushed into the mobile world.

Of course, we’re not yet at the stage when the connection between our devices and the cloud-based servers is perfect, but the 5G adoption should help with this issue.

And it’s not like it’s happening only with the desktop or console-based gaming industry. Apple  launched their Apple Arcade last year, this year, Google rolled out Google Play Pass and I’m expecting Chinese companies to start catching up soon. Tencent definitely has the powerhouse to support such an endeavour.

I’m wondering if the whole post-COVID era will also transform other industries. Like hospitality for example. Hotel chains can easily come up with an interesting subscription-based solution that will motivate people to travel cheaper. And let’s face it, once we’re allowed to travel — it’s going to be a hectic time for the travel industry in general.

5G technology

5G. It’s been coming for a while, but I think it’s just around the corner now. Apple is not a company that jumps on the bandwagon or new and shiny technologies and their adoption of 5G in the newest line-up of iPhones should be a good sign that we’re getting ready to start transferring into the 5G era.

Some speculate that 5G is going to herald the Fourth Industrial Revolution and will change the app development in a way never seen before. Is it true, though? Well, companies, like Nokia for example, definitely believe so.

What’s important to know about 5G is that it’s fast. And when I say fast, I mean FAST. The 4G gives us a real maximum of 100 Mbps transfer speed, 5G should boost that tenfold. Even though theoretically it can go much faster, the reality shows an average of 1 Gbps of data transfer and an observed latency of 1 millisecond or less, which is just 300 times faster than what our eyes are capable of registering, not that big of a deal, huh?

The combination of both high speed and low latency will be rebooting the game for already mentioned streaming services, since streaming 4K content shouldn’t be an issue any more, IoT is going to be extremely happy too, and then we have wireless health technologies, connected driverless vehicles and many many more.

In 2018, Verizon’s CEO, Lowell McAdam, spoke rather optimistically about the advantages 5G brings to the power-department of things, claiming 5G will enable having 10 years of battery life for the IoT devices and 4 weeks on one charge for the smartphones, which, I’m quite sceptical about, to be honest. Facebook and the rest of less optimized applications will make sure we’re still struggling to get 1 day of screen time on our phones.

m-commerce

Well, as we all know, 2020 wasn’t the year for the retail. But it was quite a YEAR for e-commerce. It blasted through the roof.

Source: CommonThread

I’m more than convinced that this year’s pandemic has swayed our shopping behaviour towards e-commerce forever. Those businesses that were relying on their offline retail model were suddenly forced to either adapt (and go online) or close.

Now, m-commerce (a.k.a. mobile e-commerce) is something that shouldn’t be disregarded when we speak about e-commerce. Personally, when I introduced myself to Zalando, ASOS or Etsy mobile apps, I don’t think I used their websites very often. And that’s not just my weirdness, or at least not only mine.

According to Statista, in 2021, m-commerce could rake in as much as $3.5 trillion, which would make up “only” 72.9% of global e-commerce sales. You can’t just ignore it any more. If you’re not going mobile-first, in a few years your e-commerce website is going to suffer another COVID-like crisis, just as offline retail did, and your revenue is going to drop like hell.

Which posts a question: Should I even bother with developing a website and should I just focus on building an app instead? Well, the issue is not THIS simple.

Elder generations are still most likely going to go for the websites: they’re bigger, they’re somewhat easier to navigate and let’s face it, elder generations had enough stress of suddenly jumping to an online based commerce, online based medical services etc. Telling them now to start figuring out the mobile industry is not the best idea.

What I think should be mentioned is something called PWA — Progress Web Apps. Simply put, it’s a responsive web page that can be installed on your phone as an app. The benefits are also quite simple — you don’t need to build a mobile application using native technologies or cross-platform ones. That saves you a decent amount of money to spend on something else. What’s even better, if you decide to use JavaScript as your tech stack to develop both backend and frontend — it simplifies the development and dev team recruitment to a single technology.

Yes, PWA is somewhat limited in the things it can do, but I can’t think of any that it wouldn’t do when it comes to e-commerce. If you’d like to adapt to the m-commerce trend — it’s worth considering it. Our clients that have decided to opt in for PWA development didn’t have any regrets afterwards.

Blockchain

To many, blockchain still means Bitcoin, which, as we know, is far from being the truth. The knowledge about the distributed ledger technology is spreading, though, so that’s a good sign. And even though the trend is ongoing, my quite an intensive research (previously I worked in a blockchain company) shows that it’s far from being at its peak.

The technology is being implemented across, I’d risk saying, every possible industry: from healthcare to logistics, to travel, to government, to banking — everywhere where data immutability can bring vast benefits in a form of reduced costs, enhanced transparency, more efficient and secure transactions as well as an increased public trust in combination with fraud prevention especially in the GovTech sector.

What I think we’re going to see in the 2021 is a definite increase in blockchain-powered applications, as not only startups, but also the enterprise world complete their ongoing pilots or more advanced projects.

Just to give you a couple of examples:

In March 2020, Alibaba announced it will be enhancing its cross-border e-commerce unit Kaola (purchased in 2019) with Ant Financial’s blockchain technology in order to boost product traceability, record logistics details, custom clearances and product registration.

Dubai, for instance, was aiming to become the first blockchain-powered city in the world by 2020, but I guess due to the current complications that’ll have to be postponed. One of the objectives they’re working on is to make the Government of Dubai completely paper-free, eliminating more than 1 billion pieces of paper.

The number of corporate-based blockchain applications proves the technology is not going away anytime soon.

Wearables

Apple Watch. Probably the first thing that comes to our minds when someone mentions wearables and not without a reason. Apple keeps dominating the smartwatch market. For now.

Well, not that Apple is too worried about the fact they lost about 10% in sales in 2020 in comparison to 2019, as the companies like Huawei, Samsung and Garmin recorded their record sales in Q1 2020. The reason is quite simple, Apple Watch is an accessory for an Apple product. It’s quite natural that they’re not going to hold the crown forever as the Android market with cheaper and Android-dedicated products is catching up.

Now let’s talk COVID. Did it have any impact on the wearables industry? Well, yes, in a few ways. Firstly, the Q1 was a bit dodgy as the supply chains were disrupted by the raging pandemic... but. The pandemic also changed how we approach our health tracking. Said change in approach boosted sales of the wearables.

According to a market research from ReportLinker, the wearables market is expected to grow from $13.2 billion in 2019 to $16.12 billion in 2020 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.37%. Which also means the demand for supported apps is going to grow as well.

Augmented Reality

Remember when it first came out? Everyone was like ‘Ooh, that’s kinda funny. Pointless, but funny. Oh, what’s this? Snapchat filters? Say whaaat...’. Well, thankfully, the technology matured and is constantly showing more and more potential for implementing it into day-to-day operations of many businesses.

Damn, even this article is going to be impacted by COVID, as if it wasn’t enough... Anyway. The pandemic quite clearly affected how we communicate with each other (video calls, hooray! *muffled crying*) and AR could add a bit more life to it.

We already have the ability to add a background image... let’s be honest, created to hide the mess of working from your home, very often without even getting out of bed.

Then we have Facebook, who’s apparently going to release Ray Ban-signed AR smart glasses. Facebook didn’t show the product itself as they don’t have it yet, but they predict to deliver it in 2021. Is this the way for AR?

Well, I’m not convinced. I think it’s just a way for Facebook to test an AR-powered device on a bit broader user base. I think the glasses itself will take about the same niche as Snapchat Spectacles — a fun gadget that not many people actually use.

But do I believe AR will become more and more useful tool for marketers and CX directors all over the place — yes. Hospitality will do wonders with it.

And let’s not forget about the health industry. With the combined benefits of 5G, cloud and AR, the healthcare industry could undergo a mini revolution.

Event streaming

As I’ve mentioned above, the way our social interactions work had to change. It obviously has its pros and cons. Let’s focus on the pros, shall we?

The offline event industry got shattered by the pandemic. It did recover a bit during the summer to get smacked by the 2nd wave again. Now, we’re probably going to see it come to life by the next summer (let’s be optimistic here), as companies like Pfizer successfully produce COVID-19 vaccines, but I think it will never go back to a regular offline event pre-COVID formula. I think we’re going to enter a hybrid-events era.

Once, during the quarantine I took part in an online conference organized using Hopin (not an ad) — as they call themselves, an online venue for virtual events. It was... amazing! Hopin is not your typical webinar platform, it actually feels like a virtual venue. You can change stages and listen to different speakers, you can go and visit virtual booths, where each company has their own virtual room with a chat, you can just sit and chat with every participant in a global chat, you can see their business profiles and there’s a room for 1-on-1 networking sessions.

Source: Hopin

Tools like this will enable large conferences to go even bigger and smaller ones to grow worldwide as the internet breaks the need to jump on a plane and travel thousands of kilometres to just attend a 2-days event.

Other thing — virtual concerts. Travis Scott’s few-minutes concert in Fortnite was... something. If someone comes up with an app that makes mobile virtual concerts a thing and aims at the TikTok’s age audience, that could be a good hit.

Flip phones

This is going to be a short one, but I think it’s still worth mentioning. Smartphone manufacturers keep coming up with various devices that stand out from the reigning regular smartphone design. Microsoft Surface Duos, Motorola Razrs, Samsung Flips and LG Wings are all over the place.

But with additional screen space, comes an additional headache for UX designers to extend our standard rectangle apps to additional screen apps and maybe find a better way to use that added space to make it suitable for some specific use cases.

Edge computing

To start off, I’ll try to explain what edge computing is in a simplistic manner as I assume not every reader will be familiar with the matter.

Basically, edge computing is aimed to bring computation and data storage closer to the devices that are using/gathering it, rather than depending on a central server that can be thousands of kilometres away. The main purpose is to avoid latency issues that can have its toll on the app’s performance. It also can cut costs for the companies and with 5G being more and more available, we won’t have to worry about the speed at which everything is being processed.

The need for edge computing rose with an exponential growth of IoT-enabled devices in the last few years.

‘Robust low-latency, where a very high volume of data messages is delivered with minimal delay — in near real time, can be ensured for critical communication, for example in industrial environments. Real-time analytics can be performed at the point of capture and corrective actions can be instantaneously taken locally. David Linthicum, the Chief Cloud Strategy Officer at Deloitte nicely illustrates this, explaining ‘if you’re flying an airplane, you don’t want to send data down to a cloud server to see if the engines are on fire’.’

- Nurit Sprecher, Head of Management, Virtualization and Application Enablement Standardization at Nokia

IoT

Speaking of IoT.

According to Statista, the projected global IoT spendings will reach $1.1 trillion by 2023, with around 21.5 billion installed units. And since IoT consists of many verticals: from wearable devices to smart homes, smart cars, smart cities and more, we’ll see growth in the individual verticals in the following years.

Source: Statista

Now, how does this impact mobile app development?

Well, we’re definitely going to see an increase in healthcare applications. The pandemic showed us that we can be treated without the actual need to go to the doctor if the case is not severe enough, like a common cold, for instance. I think we’re going to see a boost in IoT-powered medical devices that we’ll be able to use by ourselves to measure the needed medical data that will be automatically sent to a cloud platform that will allow doctors to give you precise diagnosis and meds prescription in minutes, instead of spending time going to see a doctor when it’s just something minor.

Next. Smart homes. Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri are getting into more and more households, more and more people invest into various smart appliances and install more and more smart sensors to manage their smart homes. We’ve started with smart light bulbs, moved to climate control and soon I think we’ll be seeing smart devices everywhere. Imagine having your smart home application tell that your kitchen sink pipes are clogged up and thus you should add some drain cleaners, before they clog up for good and you’ll need to call a plumber.

Now, how about smart city uses? What if you were able to enter, let’s say a train, open your tickets app and automatically be presented with a ticket that corresponds to this particular train? The only thing you need to do is select your destination and pay for the ticket. I’d love that. And don’t forget, 5G is going to be a blast of a technology that will speed up the adoption of IoT-enabled devices.

Cloud-native

Let’s start with an explanation of what cloud-native means, as it was slightly confusing for me too. We’ve been hearing about cloud-based applications for quite some time. Today, we start hearing more and more about cloud-native applications. What this means is that the code for such software is written with cloud-first approach, taking away from you the need to have a separate server for hosting your app. Everything is handled by the cloud-native solution providers, like AWS, Google Cloud or Azure.

There are many benefits to cloud-native development (there are also drawbacks, but I think they are much more niche and situation-specific). For instance, if you decide to use Google Cloud you don’t really need to worry about predicting the traffic plan you need to purchase for your hosting server, as Google Cloud serverless tooling allows you to automatically scale up and down depending on incoming/outcoming traffic, essentially cutting down your expenses.

Besides business benefits, there’s also plenty of such for the developers, but I’m not going to focus on the technical side of things in this piece.

Considering the state of the world right now, the 5G-enabled future, IoT and edge computing, cloud-native definitely has its place amongst the mobile app development trends that you should follow in 2021. Most of the apps we develop here at Software Brothers are already cloud-native and the trend is very unlikely to change.

Epilogue

Those above should be one of the main app development trends for 2021. Not the only ones, obviously, as the technology world is quickly adapting to the post-COVID era, coming up with a multitude of new solutions aimed to boost our user experience and break through the limitations that the global quarantine has showed us. Which, on the positive side, is a good thing and hopefully the pandemic is nearly over, but the technology is going to stay and make our future event better.

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That would be it for today. As someone wrote to me on LinkedIn — stay positive, test negative. Ciao!