2015 was an action-packed year for the mobile industry, and a hugely successful year for us at hedgehog lab both on a national and International level. We welcomed in 2016 with feathers in our caps, and can’t wait to see what the next 12 months have in store.
As the industry evolves at a rapid pace, there are many exciting developments to look out for over the year ahead. Some are new features and improvements to innovations from 2015, whilst others are totally new arrivals onto the tech scene. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the 16 things we believe will define the momentum for mobile app developers in 2016.
1. Apple Watch 2
Excitement is a ritual at Apple. In March, the tech giant is expected to introduce Apple Watch 2, with a host of 2nd generation features. Although it’s likely to be similar to its predecessor in look and feel, prominent new features could include a front-facing video camera to make FaceTime calls, a more dynamic wireless chip to enable video calls directly from the user’s wrist, and a bigger battery to meet higher power requirements.
Giving the Watch more independence to operate without a Bluetooth connection to iPhone will improves the user experience significantly. The next-generation Apple Watch can do text messaging, emailing, and receive updated weather data without a connected iPhone. Whilst it still requires an iPhone for heavy data transfers, including software upgrades and the synchronisation of media files. This in turn may resolve some pain points that mobile app developers like us have been complaining about.
2. IoT - Internet of Things
2015 saw tremendous growth in the connected devices market. This year, there is going to be a shift in focus towards increasing the impact and value of connected services rather than the number of devices connected. Mobile app developers and solution providers should not only deliver connected services, but secure them too.
There will be a remarkable growth in connected cars in the US, driving a possible future global trend. 2016 will be the year of LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) technologies, which hold great promise to the continued growth of IoT. This will trigger development of over 100,000 IoT apps, making it an exciting time for app developers.
3. Smart Clothing
Smart garments ranging from t-shirts with bio-sensing circuitry to sensor-laden athletic shoes are going to rule the wearable electronic devices markets. The growth story started in 2015, with sales skyrocketing from a mere 0.1m units in 2014 to a massive 10.1m in 2015. These successes are set to continue in 2016, with an impressive 26m projection that will leave other wearables lagging behind.
It remains to be seen how mobile app developers will collaborate with enterprises providing services in healthcare, fitness, military and industrial settings to enable and enhance the user experience.
4. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
VR is emerging as the only medium that guarantees users complete focus on content. Whilst it isn’t practical for interacting in the real world, AR adds contextual layers of information to our experiences in real time. According to Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), sales of VR and AR headsets will grow from approximately 200,000 in 2015 to over 1.2 million in 2016, making the VP opportunity very real for app developers.
As take-up levels in the VR market make a leap, the commercial use of VR is going to increase, but the majority of early applications will continue to be gaming. In 2016, there will also be a rise in the use of 360-degree video cameras to film for virtual reality headsets.
Meanwhile, augmented reality developer kits are going to hit the market early this year. Both VR and AR tinker with reality, but AR enhances it, whereas VR diverts us from it. For this reason, augmented reality is expected to really take off in 2017, with its promise of contextual data for marketers and utility for consumers. As Mobile app developers we are excited to see what kinds real world solutions we can work on with the VR/AR headsets.
5. Google Glass 2
Google Glass was traditionally a device designed by and for developers and tech enthusiasts. The first edition was released well ahead of its time. It was a prototype from Google's top-secret X labs and strived to involve developers heavily throughout its evolution with the Explorer Program. By all accounts, Google Glass failed to achieve commercial success as only early adopters bought into it.
The latest edition, Google Glass 2, is the second iteration of the device, likely to be released in November 2016. It’s been rumoured that the new version will be an enterprise edition, with a larger prism, sturdier design and built-in Intel Atom processor. Targeted at businesses that use Android for Work, app developers will have to focus on developing enterprise apps to complement Google Glass 2.
Google Glass didn’t fail because of technology, rather because it wasn’t clear to the customer what problem it solved or why they needed it. As we move towards hands-free and eyes-free communication and interaction with our environment, Google Glass 2 may well come into its own. Tailored to the needs of enterprise users, app developers may come up with innovative applications to handle tasks on the go.
Apple's CarPlay is the mobile device interface for car infotainment systems. This system has gained popularity amongst car manufacturers, many of whom are integrating it into new models. Wireless CarPlay Receivers are on the list of new features for release in 2016. In addition to the apps from Apple, third party apps will also be available for use via CarPlay.
This unveils a major opportunity for mobile app developers to cater to the in-car infotainment ecosystem. Whilst manufacturers such as Ford, Volkswagen and Chrysler are integrating CarPlay into new models, aftermarket in-dash infotainment system providers are going to dominate this trend in 2016, giving mobile app developers plenty to be excited about.
7. Android Auto
Android Auto is Google’s answer to mobile interfaces for car infotainment systems, with widespread adoption by leading car manufacturers. Audi, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Volkswagen and Volvo are all coming up with models integrated with Android Auto in 2016. Designed to work with Android phones running 5.0 (Lollipop) or higher, Android Auto automatically brings you useful information, organised into simple cards that appear whenever you need them.
Google is aggressively promoting the Android Auto platform amongst the developer community. App developers are getting fantastic opportunities to shape manufacturer systems such as Ford's SYNC 3, which recently updated its system to allows users to choose from Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto for connecting mobile devices to their cars.
Although there are some privacy issues regarding Google collecting data about key parameters such as throttle position, oil temperature, coolant temperature, overall this is positive news for users and developers alike.
8. Smart Virtual Personal Assistants
Smart Virtual Personal Assistants were one of the hottest tech trends of 2015. Apple’s Siri, Google’s Google Now, Amazon Echo and Microsoft Cortana take voice commands from users to perform various tasks like making and answering calls, reading mail, sending text messages and playing music.
The major advantage of these virtual assistants is to enable hands-free and eyes-free operation for tasks like driving. Mobile app developers should get ready to develop innovative apps for intelligent agents, to deliver dynamic and contextual actions and interfaces in the connected world. We as developers are looking forward to see how these assistants will be integrated
9. Flexible Screen Devices
A flexible display is an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) layer that sits in a flexible material such as plastic instead of rigid glass. Samsung's Galaxy Round was the first instance of phone manufacturers bringing a flexible display to market, followed by the LG G Flex. 2016 is going to be the year for these rolling, folding and bending screens.
The overall utility of flexible screens is still a subject of debate, but there are a few clear benefits, including improved readability, less glare and unbreakable design. However, the possibilities don’t end there. Imagine a flexible phone that can be wrapped around the wrist in the gym, or folded up after use. How this is going to impact the user experience remains to be seen.
Mobile app developers should find new ways of handling these bending, folding and rolling screens, and should take the new displays and screen resolutions into account while designing apps.
10. Autonomous Cars
Autonomous, self-driving or driverless cars are gradually moving from fiction to reality. This could be the next big platform for mobile app developers in 2016 and beyond. Whilst our cars already have dozens of chips controlling everything from the fuel injectors to the brakes, they lack connectivity and data flow to/from the outside world. That is going to change with the advent of connected, semi-autonomous and autonomous cars.
While there are currently no autonomous cars for sale, Google already has its autonomous car and leading car companies will demonstrate theirs at CES 2016. This will present challenges to the existing user interface and architecture of apps. They have to handle situations such as controlled access to the on-board computer by cautious manufacturers, inconsistent networks, no human intervention, hands-free UI, location tracking, and massive amounts of data. As a result, app developers will need to rethink their app strategies when it comes to delivering apps for autonomous cars.
11. USB Type-C
The USB Type-C or USB-C is a connector that allows us to deliver power, data and display through a single connector, cable and port. USB Type-C is designed to be future-proof, according to the USB Implementers Forum responsible for the development of USB, compatible with newer, faster versions as the connector evolves. With Type-C USB, both cable ends will be the same, allowing for reversible plug orientation.
Set to be widely available from 2016, Type-C USB will support USB 3.1 with the top speed of 10Gbps and a much higher power output of up to 20V (100W) and 5A. Going forward, USB-C will enable proliferation of bus-powered external hard drives, whilst allowing bi-directional power. So as well as charging the peripheral device, when applicable, a peripheral device could also charge a host device.
All this means we can do away with an array of proprietary power adapters and USB cables, and move towards a single, robust solution that works for all devices. It will take a few years for Type-C to become as popular as the current Type-A, but when it does it will simplify the way we work with devices, and cut down the number of wires in homes and workplaces. There will be just one tiny cable needed for any device, for both data and power connections.
12. Mobile Payment
Technology is transforming the payments ecosystem from cash, card, paper and metal to cashless, cardless and paperless payments. Whilst cheque usage has been on the decline for many years, mobile payments are only just beginning to challenge the existing credit/debit card system. As new digital and mobile technologies provide a solution to relatively expensive and inefficient payment processes, the future is set to bring much greater financial inclusion.
The future of money will leverage digital and mobile technologies, to drive new low-cost, highly efficient payment solutions. Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay and Paypal have already hit the market with their mobile payment systems; Walmart is going to introduce its own system by June 2016.
Whilst mobile phones have been a catalyst for much of the change, 85% of consumer transactions worldwide are still done with paper bills and metal coins, demonstrating major growth potential for the mobile payment ecosystem.
Mobile app developers and companies that wish to leverage mobile devices to sell their products and services face many choices. They must decide how to collect money and which operating systems to use, as well as which payment providers offer the most cost-effective fee structures, best support and most security to their clients.
Nokia sold its handset business to Microsoft in late 2013 and has since been making telecoms network equipment for operators like Vodafone and T-Mobile. However, with the launch of an Android tablet, the N1, a virtual reality camera and the Z Launcher app, it seems that Nokia is having something of a comeback.
Although Nokia is seeking partners for "brand-licensing" deals rather than manufacturing phones by itself, as a brand recognised by 4 billion users globally it remains very much in the spotlight in the tech industry. As the contract with Microsoft comes to an end at the end of 2016, a move to Android platform would boost Nokia’s success in developing countries as it is already a well-known brand worldwide.
It remains to be seen how this comeback will impact the mobile app ecosystem, businesses and app developers. To re-enter the mobile market successfully, the brand must differentiate itself from other players and answer the fundamental question of why users should adopt an Android phone from Nokia. App developers will definitely play a pivotal role in shaping the future direction of the brand.
14. No Passwords
" 'Pizza,' 'password,' and '123456' — your days are numbered."
Google is testing a feature that will allow users to sign into their accounts without requiring a password. Users that have access to this feature will be able to log into their accounts using their mobile devices. A notification pops up that asks users to authenticate their identities and grant permission to access accounts.
Currently, the feature is accessible by invite only for members in the Google Group called “Sign-in Experiments at Google”. This feature is similar to Yahoo “Account Key,” which enables users to log into their Yahoo account by responding to push notifications on their mobile devices. Mobile app developers would benefit from this feature, as integrating push notifications into their app design will offer an enhanced user experience.
15. Activity Trackers
Activity trackers or fitness monitors are soon going to become the thing of past from 2016. These devices are either worn on our wrists like a watch or clipped onto our clothes. The data they store is synchronised with our smartphone, tablet or PC, to monitor our activities, sleep patterns and heart rate. They also allow users to compete with others through apps, and can access historical data to track improvement.
Jawbone, Misfit, Fitbit and Garmin are some of the brands that have been dominating the market. What they all have in common is great software, a crucial component of any activity tracker. App developers could bundle extra features, such as the ability to compete with friends, track food and drink intake, monitor weight and more, into these devices.
But till now activity trackers have been limited to tracking health parameters such as the number of steps taken, distance walked and heart rate, whereas Apple, Samsung and most mobile device manufacturers are working on building Smartwatches which can do more than just track this data. This has led brands like Fitbit to come up with a fitness watch called Blaze, which allows users to read the time, receive notifications and text messages, and even to make audio and video calls by syncing with their smartphones.
This will become a common trend from 2016, as not just mobile device manufacturers but even traditional watch companies are investing heavily in Smartwatches. When these watches can do a lot more along with activitiy tracking, it would not make sense for general users to purchase a smartwatch as well as an activity tracker.
16. AI and Robots
We saw significant advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence in 2015. New techniques and algorithms are enabling robots to learn much more quickly and effectively to see, grasp and reason. As this technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, knowledge-sharing robots are likely to be a key trend in 2016.
Now robots can teach one another how to recognise a particular object or perform a new task. Personal robots are set to debut this year, and it will be interesting to see how well they are received. Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg is busy with an AI project to create a robot butler capable of servicing his every need.T he J.A.R.V.I.S of Iron Man could soon be a reality. As hardware becomes cheaper, software more capable, and AI increasingly advanced, the time seems right for robotic home companions and helpers.
2016 is also set to be the year of autonomous drones. Regulations are already in place for testing technology that could help automate air traffic control for automated vehicles. Companies like Amazon and Google are channelling their efforts into making these AI-driven robots operational. Expecting an airborne gift? You may not have to wait long!
The only real limiting factor is battery power, which is currently a major cause for concern. Moreover, Elon Musk of OpenAI warns about the potentially negative outcomes of AI research. He expects the government to monitor the industry and make sure the public is aware of what's happening, to ensure that developments are controlled and responsible.
From wearable technology to autonomous cars, robots and drones, 2016 is set to be another action-packed year for the tech and mobile industry. As mobile app developers, the hedgehog lab team is looking forward to delving into new opportunities presented by these innovations, to enhance the user experience at home, work and on the go.