Mobile Development Trends in 2021
Heading into 2021, the mobile app market is still relatively young, and it continues to grow and change rapidly despite its already-enormous size. In 2018, the worldwide mobile app market generated over $365 billion in revenue, but by 2023 it could approach $1 trillion annually, per data from Statista.
A major driver of this growth is the ability of mobile app developers to continually incorporate new technologies into their workflows, allowing them to target a wider range of platforms and device types. From cross-platform native frameworks such as React Native and Flutter to tools for building smart home apps, development teams have numerous options.
But it’s important to choose the right tech and approach, not only to keep up with changes in how apps are built, but also to deliver the best possible user experience. With 70% of mobile users saying that they’ll abandon a mobile app that takes too long to load, development teams must find the right balance between performance and cost — something an app development company can help with.
Let’s look at what will drive mobile app decisions in 2021 and beyond.
1. The Continued Rise of Cross-Platform Native Development
How can you build apps that look, feel and perform similar to native apps, without needing to maintain a different technology stack and process for every OS?
But which one should you choose? Here’s a quick rundown of what makes each one unique, along with some pros and cons.
The end result is a truly native experience in terms of the UI, along with the ability to reuse JS code across iOS, Android and web apps and push updates via CodePush. Since React Native uses JS, it also benefits from a large development community that is always adding new packages.
In terms of drawbacks, the performance of React Native suffers from the complexity of the JS bridge. All else being equal, it won’t perform as well as Flutter or a traditional native app.
Flutter uses Dart instead of JS. Its Dart-based architecture allows for some substantial performance improvements over React Native, but at the cost of a smaller active development community. It can’t match the huge JS package ecosystem that surrounds React Native, nor can web app code be as easily reused, since Dart isn’t ubiquitous like JS. Flutter also handles UI controls a bit differently.
On the bright side, Flutter apps perform better than React Native equivalents due to the ahead-of-time compilation of their Dart code. Flutter does not use a bridge, either. However, it doesn’t implement true native UI controls like React Native does, instead using its own Material and Cupertino design libraries for Android and iOS, respectively.
Overall, both options have real advantages and drawbacks. Expect both to remain popular as ways to build native apps that can run on any major platform.
2. Simpler, Smarter and More Intuitive Smart Home Technologies
Smart home systems are one of the biggest new frontiers in app development and an increasingly important part of the larger Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, the global smart home industry could grow from $78.3 billion in 2020 to over $125 billion in just three years.
Faster network speeds, in tandem with the gradual rollout of IoT-optimized standards like Wi-Fi 6 and 5G should fuel this growth. But the bigger story is how it is becoming easier to develop and deploy apps for these environments.
The launch of the Connected Home Over IP (CHIP) project in late 2019 created an industry-wide compatibility standard for smart home projects, and the first CHIP-certified products should debut in 2021. These devices have an easier time communicating with each other than older ones built on very different technology stacks.
For end users, smart home apps and devices for remote monitoring, environmental control, fitness, smart lighting and more are also becoming more straightforward to use:
- Devices that once required a bridge to connect to Wi-Fi are now going bridge-less for more streamlined and intuitive designs, as demonstrated by some products at CES 2021.
- Hubs like Google Home and the iOS Home app enable centralized control of the entire smart home from any phone, tablet or laptop.
- Smart doorbells, speakers, watches and many other devices have steadily become both cheaper and more capable, increasing the size of the addressable market for developers.
For 2021, we should expect an increased focus on fitness applications in the smart home (e.g., smart TVs and cameras for tracking and assisting with workouts) and health-oriented devices like contactless thermometers and doorbells in particular, in addition to the general trends above. Both of these specific trends reflect the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. Progressive Web Apps as Alternatives to Mobile Apps
Progressive web apps (PWAs) provide all of the features of a mobile website, along with more advanced capabilities like the ability to work offline, start quickly through local caching and be “installed” (meaning show up as an icon, at the very least) on the home screen. Exact functionality varies by platform, with Android and Chrome currently offering the deepest PWA support.
PWAs can be distributed directly from the web, without the need to go through a store. In other words, a PWA is a website that looks and feels like a standalone mobile app, but with more flexibility and simplicity in terms of distribution and maintenance. Many large organizations have already built PWAs and we foresee continued momentum in 2021.
For example, Starbucks recently built a PWA 99% smaller than its iOS app and has since seen a big uptick in its mobile ordering volumes. But the biggest growth prospect for PWAs may be for apps that in the past faced complications in gaining approval in Google Play or the Apple App Store.
Everything from email clients like Hey.com to gaming services like Xbox Cloud Gaming has faced approval delays in recent years. PWAs provide a workaround, and one that the likes of Microsoft and Amazon are exploring for 2021 and beyond.
4. From E-Commerce to M-Commerce
E-commerce sales surged throughout 2020. The closure of brick-and-mortar stores in response to the coronavirus pandemic sent shoppers online in record numbers, accelerating e-commerce growth by the equivalent of 4 to 6 years at pre-pandemic growth rates, per Adobe.
Although estimates of mobile’s share of e-commerce sales vary, data compiled by Statista indicates that mobile e-commerce (m-commerce) could account for a majority of all online sales for the first time in 2021. Some of the key drivers of m-commerce in 2021 will include:
- Convenience of mobile payments: Apple Pay, Google Pay and similar payment stacks allow buyers to check out with all their payment, shipping and contact information already filled in. In stores, these same services also support hygienic contactless payments.
- Purchases come to social media platforms: Some products are now available to buy directly on social networks like Instagram and Pinterest, helping mobile users streamline the shopping process.
- Simple online store setup: Platforms like Shopify have seen rapid growth as ways to build m-commerce stores that can be easily accessed via a mobile app, responsive website and/or PWA.
5. Possible Breakthroughs in AR and VR
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are not new, and both have been staples of “Next Big Thing” trend pieces for years. However, 2021 could be an inflection point for both technologies.
IDC has forecast AR/VR sales to climb to $72.8 billion in 2021, up from $12 billion in 2020. But actual mass-market devices will be needed to drive this growth. The introduction of LiDAR for improved depth sensing on the iPhone 12 shows one possible path forward.
Some iOS apps have already taken advantage of these sensors. Common use cases include 3D mapping, furniture visualization and simulation, text translation and measurement.
Immersive AR/VR headsets from prominent vendors could further accelerate adoption and open new avenues for mobile developers. Most notably, Apple may be introducing an AR device in 2021 or 2022, although its expected high price could limit the initial app market for it.
6. Machine Learning and AI
As with AR and VR, the incorporation of machine learning (ML) and AI into mobile apps is a long-term trend that began years ago. In 2021, we can expect continued progress in terms of how deeply ML and AI are integrated into mobile apps, aided by advances in both device capabilities and ML tools offered by cloud computing platforms.
Cloud service providers including Amazon, Google and Microsoft all offer ML and AI APIs that can be easily incorporated into mobile apps. In other words, developers don’t need to be experts in either ML or AL to build even complex functionality into their applications.
For instance, the Amazon Translate neural machine translation service is available within the AWS SDK for iOS and Android. Likewise, Google offers both cloud and on-device APIs for use cases like text recognition, object tracking, face detection, digital inking and barcode scanning, all optimized for mobile devices. Expect such APIs to become even more common fixtures of mobile apps as developers look to build more complex apps as quickly and efficiently as possible.
How can you best adapt to these trends and make sure you’re building apps that address the needs of your customers? Transcenda can help you on your mobile development journey. View our case studies for a quick overview of our approach, or reach out to our team directly to set up an initial chat.