Originally published January 23, 2018, updated January 29, 2019.
Mobile development is one of the most innovative and fastest growing sectors of the tech industry.
The average American spends over three hours a day on their smartphones (not including calls) and companies are pushing to gain a share of that time.
As mobile continues to work its way into daily life, the technologies rising to the top are ones that make that constant usage easier and more enjoyable.
It should come as no surprise that practicality, good user experiences, and convenience are the keys to winning public support in 2019.
Consumers expect their smartphones to do more than take calls and check email. They want more connectivity with the world around them, and they want that connection to be as safe as it is convenient.
To that end, here are the trends driving mobile developers in 2019:
1. Mobile Application Security
Users share more personal data with apps than ever before.
Mobile wallets have banking information, social media and habit trackers store details about personality and routines, and navigation apps keep records of everywhere a user goes.
At the same time, there’s enormous pressure to put apps out fast enough to keep up with consumer demand. Data breaches can be caused when companies rush development – and the risks are only rising.
The average cost of a breach was $3.62 million in 2017. Last year saw a 6.4% increase to $3.86 million.
In 2018 experts began tracking so-called “mega breaches”. These are cases where between 1-50 million records are breached, and they’re becoming more common as the Internet of Things (IoT) makes more user data available.
Alarmingly, 10 out of 11 of this type of breach are caused by malicious actors as opposed to technical errors. That shifts the focus from passively securing connections to actively preventing criminal intrusions.
In 2019, look for developers to emphasize security from the beginning of projects, with encryption throughout and automated testing at regular intervals. Artificial intelligence will also be on the rise for mobile security applications.
2. 5G Wireless Connectivity
2019 will bring the first major wave of 5G phones and wireless networks to urban areas. AT&T, which switched on their 5G wireless network in 12 cities last year, will add at least 7 more during 2019.
Sprint announced a 9-city 5G presence in the first half of the year with potential for wider coverage depending on how fast they can build out their infrastructure.
There were some test programs and small-scale rollouts from Verizon and AT&T last year, but without the right devices to handle it those haven’t done much more than raise excitement.
Now Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, OnePlus, and LG have all announced 5g-ready smartphones to be released this year.
Why is 5G so exciting? For one thing, it’s fast. 5G is at least 10 times faster than 4G.
Users will be able to download movies and apps in seconds rather than minutes, and streaming mobile video will be as fluid as watching at home. C
arriers are warning that it’s only a little faster than 4G outside cities, but it’s still a major improvement considering how well it handles high-resolution media.
Latency is another major draw. 5G’s incredibly low latency- under one millisecond- will let multiple devices communicate quickly enough to respond to the real world.
Experts are primarily thinking of self-driving cars and drones, but the technology will also take mobile gaming to a whole new level of user experience.
5G is about more than smartphones, though. The technology is part of an overall shift towards improving the wireless infrastructure to support the growing Internet of Things.
5G could mean major advances for smart cars, self-driving vehicles, smart homes, Augmented Reality devices, wearables, and other mobile connected devices.
3. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
AMP is a set of protocols focused around HTML, JS, and a Google Cache that boosts the performance of mobile pages.
AMP-compliant pages load twice as fast as normal pages and perform well across a variety of devices and signal ranges.
With their higher availability and faster loading times, pages that use AMP have lower bounce rates and longer average session times.
Users also find AMP pages easier since Google places them in a special carousel at the top of search results.
That’s very tempting for companies looking to increase their site traffic (and who isn’t?).
There are some functionality limitations to AMP, but for basic pages those limits are outweighed by the speed and SEO preference.
Look for companies to continuing moving some of their customer-facing content to AMP throughout 2019.
4. Instant Apps
The barrier to adoption for a lot of apps is the download requirement.
People only have so much memory on their smartphones, and they hesitate to download apps that could just sit unused on their phones.
That’s not an unrealistic fear: only 20% of apps are opened again after the first use.
Surveys show that 75% of consumers feel more comfortable using apps with helpful reviews or screenshots, but Instant Apps take that a step farther.
Users can access them directly from the Google Play store without downloading.
Companies don’t need to build separate instant apps to take advantage of the trend, either.
Since they’re effectively features of an existing app (for example, the map section of a store app) which are used independently via a website, they use the same APIs and source code.
Developers only need to update their existing apps for Instant App functionality.
Instant apps offer some enticing benefits:
- Instant apps open in seconds while the supporting website loads behind, giving the customer-facing impression of instant access.
- Consumers can use just the feature they need or test-drive apps before downloading them.
- Businesses can offload more functions (returns, coupons, and the like) to their app since customers can access them without having to go through the download process first.
- Instant apps can be shared via links, which friends can view without downloading anything.
Early adopters have seen significant increases in full app downloads and engagement.
Updating for Instant App compatibility can take as little as a single day.
Instant Apps have become available on over 500 million devices worldwide since launching.
With satisfied customers including Vimeo, The New York Times, and the Wal-Mart owned shopping service Jet, it’s a sure bet that they will continue to rise in popularity.
5. Mobile Payments
Digital payment options are seeing a slow but steady transition to the real world. 2.1 billion consumers worldwide will use mobile wallets to make payments in 2019, a 30% increase from 2017.
Mobile payment has already become commonplace in China and India, where some stores accept nothing else.
Outside those markets mobile payments have been slower to grow, though they’re still gaining ground. In 2018 20% of Americans were using mobile wallets and payment options.
Experts predict that number to rise nearly 40% over the next year as mobile security improves enough to lend consumers confidence in the technology.
The leading general-purpose mobile payment systems in America are Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay. At least half of US retailers accept these, which makes it easier for consumers to leave their wallets at home.
Look for more brick and mortar businesses to begin accepting mobile payments. There’s also a trend towards loyalty programs with integrated mobile wallets that bears watching.
The Starbucks app’s mobile payment option saw over a million more users than Apple Pay in 2018, and over twice the number of Google Pay users. It will be interesting to see how this develops in 2019.
6. Mobile AI
Mobile AI is being fueled by edge computing and the rising demand for on-device processing.
A variety of mobile applications which were once unreliable are now maturing into enterprise readiness.
- Conversational interfaces have improved along with advances in Natural Language Processing. Chatbots are leading the pack. In fact, 80% of businesses plan to release some kind of chatbot by 2020. Expect to see more chatbots and personal assistant AIs this year (especially on social media).
- Recommendation engines are the power behind upsells at online checklists, but they’re also used in evolving applications like smart travel planners and health care apps.
- Enterprise AI is a core component of digital transformation. Insights gained through enterprise analytics and predictive marketing will continue driving business in 2019 and beyond.
7. Wearable Devices
Technology has become a constant, reliable presence in daily life, and nowhere is that more obvious than with wearable devices. Users enjoy having increased control and persistent access to their data.
Most wearable devices on the market are smartwatches, with fitness trackers close behind. The category is broad, though.
New applications are constantly under development: wearable cameras, augmented or virtual reality headsets, and even smart clothing.
As a whole, the category is growing faster than predicted last year. It’s expanded from 84 million units in 2015 to an estimated 245 million units this year.
With companies like Apple offering products for a wide range of consumers and Google rumored to be working on a new wearable, this is definitely something to watch in 2019.
8. Augmented Reality apps
Although Augmented Reality has been tossed around for years, it’s coming into its own as a mainstream feature.
Both Google and Apple have released toolkits (Google’s ARCore and Apple’s ARKit) that make it possible for more businesses to take advantage of AR features.
The enterprise applications of AR are as varied as businesses themselves. One exciting use-case is the IKEA Place App.
IKEA has 411 stores in 49 countries, but for many people visiting a showroom still requires a road trip and significant planning. Enter IKEA Place, an Augmented Reality application that displays furniture at scale over a live camera image.
Users can then see how catalogue items will look in their home and whether larger furniture will fit. AR is seeing a rise in usage in fields like healthcare, engineering, and real estate as well.
Industry analysts predict that the AR market will reach $108 billion in revenue by 2020.
9. Beacon Technology
Beacon technology isn’t new. It’s been drifting around for a while in highly niche use cases, but it’s beginning to find its place as mobile technology becomes more advanced.
The idea of beacons is simple. A Bluetooth transmitter emits a signal visible only to compatible devices within a limited range. Smartphones with the right app can pick up that signal to receive timely, location-specific information.
Beacon locations are much more accurate than other locational data, which creates opportunities for more tailored interactions. Some examples:
- Unlocking a hotel room as the registered guest approaches their door
- Sending seat directions, game updates, and important alerts to fans within a sports stadium
- Alerting loyalty club members passing a store of current sales
Since the technology has been around, what will expand in 2019 is the number of beacon-oriented apps for smartphones, wearables, and other connected devices.
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Right now, that means staying on top of mobile trends.
Mobile development is one of the biggest enterprise priorities of 2019.
Companies need to be where customers are, when customers need them, and that means going mobile.
With that in mind, Concepta recommends investing in a right-sized mobile presence.
It takes some planning, but sound mobile development is a solid path to winning new customers and improving the overall customer experience.
In the long run, that’s a competitive edge that pays off.
Interested in how these trends can help grow your business in 2019? Get a free consultation with Concepta’s experienced developers to explore your options!
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are leading the charge in providing mobile access at a relatively low price point.
They have a lot of advantages over hybrid apps and bypass the “download barrier” of native apps altogether.
PWAs operate within browsers, which imposes some limitations. One of these is the browser’s built-in cache.
Mobile apps rely on caching to stay operational in variable signal strength areas, and the browser’s native cache is too unreliable to provide the best possible service.
There is a tool smart developers use to give PWAs – and other applications- a performance edge: Cache API.
The Power of PWAs
PWAs are hosted by a website and accessed through a device’s browser. The most obvious benefit is that there’s no download required.
Users simply navigate to the app, grant permission for limited device access, and are granted full access to the app’s features.
That isn’t the only reason for their popularity. As a mobile option, PWAs offer better user experience than responsive mobile sites without the higher cost of standalone apps.
They’re fast, secure, always updated, and have the native look and feel that appeals to users. They can access a growing array of device features.
PWAs also work anywhere. After the first load, users don’t even need to be online.
The app can store information for automatic update when the connection is restored – which is why reliable caching is so important.
Introducing Cache API
The API also serves as general storage, able to store almost any kind of response without worrying they’ll expire.
Caching things like this decreases traffic and network activity. It boosts the application’s performance, which is a major benefit when user experience weighs so heavily in repeat purchase decisions.
Cache API Vs Browser Cache
It might seem like using Cache API when there’s already a built-in browser cache is a waste of time, but there are good reasons to use Cache API in addition.
First and foremost is control. Developers who choose Cache API can implement custom cache control logic.
They can set priorities for what remains in the cache and what can be purged to make space. The browser cache only purges based on storage requirements.
This feeds into another benefit: reliability. Cache API adds a layer of dependable control that’s missing from even the better modern browsers.
Chrome and Firefox have been working to improve their browser caching, but it still needs improvement. A Facebook study found that only 25% of what they expected to find in the cache were actually there.
As a technical advantage, when users refresh a PWA their browser skips the HTTP cache. Service workers set up with Cache API always intercept requests.
It’s also useful that Cache API can cache multiple requests when the PWA is first run. Even those that haven’t been accessed yet can be stored.
Having these ready speeds up later requests even as the user moves through low signal areas.
Looking At Limitations
Cache API has a few notable limitations. Some browsers require use of https to access the API. Size can be a problem, too, since each browser has its own storage limits that need to be addressed.
Developers can manage this using cache quota usage estimates found through the StorageEstimate API.
Compatibility is another issue. Browser support for PWAs is growing but not consistent, and not all browsers support this feature. That does seem to be changing.
Cache API can be used in Chrome, Opera and Firefox now, and Edge and Safari have reportedly marked it as “In Development”.
It benefits users and servers alike. Given these benefits, Cache API should be on the technology short list when it comes to building PWAs.
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Deciding to use a framework is an easy choice. The harder question is, which framework fits the project at hand?
This lightweight mobile framework is based on the popular jQuery library. Developers use jQuery Mobile for mobile website development as well as apps. It’s touch-optimized with a focus on broad compatibility (Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Blackberry).
Designing is simplified with the ThemeRoller customization toolkit. ThemeRoller offers a lot of tools that make editing themes easy, including drag and drop color and component changes. There are plenty of options for manipulating page layouts, headers and footers, and other design details.
While jQuery Mobile makes it possible to perform complex scripting operations with little code, there are drawbacks. Performance varies by device. For example, jQuery Mobile apps lag noticeably on Android but run more smoothly on iOS.
Although the framework can outperform other mobile websites, it doesn’t outperform native apps. jQuery also lacks the full access to device features offered by other mobile app development tools.
NativeScript aims for a “write once, use everywhere” philosophy and comes very close. It’s an open-source framework for building Android, iOS, and Windows apps. With access to native API, it creates applications that behave like native apps on those platforms. Heavy code reuse between platform versions cuts the overall development time, too.
Being open-source and free lowers the cost of working with NativeScript. Companies see extra savings through shorter development timelines.
NativeScript aims for native performance. In practice, though, users experience some lag when opening apps. Also, critics point out that there are many inefficiencies in the NativeScript core that make debugging unnecessarily complicated.
It’s worth noting that plugins aren’t 100% verified and vary widely in quality. An inexperienced developer could accidentally introduce a vulnerability if they aren’t careful to check every plugin before use.
Facebook created this cross-platform native app development tool for its own use before releasing it to the public in 2015. Like NativeScript it features heavy code reuse, though the philosophy here is “learn once, write everywhere”. Once the tools are learned they can be applied to any platform.
React Native provides the native performance missing with NativeScript. It renders native UI elements for a “true to platform” feel that appeals to device loyalists while being less expensive to develop than a native app.
Real-time reloading leads to a smoother, more responsive development process where users can get faster feedback on changes as they work. This is one of the developer-friendly aspect of React Native that attract its large, active community of developers.
Despite matching native apps in performance, React Native doesn’t fully support all native features yet. Users have to wait for Facebook to add those capabilities. There are generally fewer specialty and custom modules than some frameworks, as well.
The different design styles of Android and iOS will result in unpolished apps if a designer isn’t careful. Navigation is sometimes a little irregular regardless of skill.
Aside from technical considerations, some developers are wary of being totally reliant on Facebook. All signs point to a long future for React Native and Facebook is still putting resources into it, but the platform does still own the license and can theoretically revoke it.
PhoneGap has a healthy library and a robust backend that makes development fast and easy. Developers don’t need specialty skill sets to use it; web development skills will give them access to all the framework’s features. Those qualities combine to make it a great tool for rapid prototyping on a budget.
PhoneGap doesn’t offer a lot of UI widgets, but performance is far and away its biggest limitation. It suffers from noticeably lower performance than other frameworks.
Making the call
There’s no single framework that’s best in every case.
- PhoneGap is great for rapid prototyping, but the performance issues may frustrate end users in the long run.
- React Native and NativeScript take opposite approaches to cross-platform development which should factor into their choice for a specific project.
- jQuery provides slightly lower performance but much wider compatibility, making it useful when end users can be expected to access the app through many kinds of devices.
Try not to go into a project with a favorite framework in mind. Look at the specific needs of the app, consider its purpose and who the end users will be, and discuss options with an experienced developer.
The wrong framework can lead to a frustrating, “square peg in a round hole” development process. The right one saves enough time and money to make it worth a little extra forethought.
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React Native is a powerful platform for building cross-platform apps that have the native look and feel users love, though it can struggle with CPU-intensive tasks.
Perfect cross-platform development is a hot topic in the software world. It’s essentially El Dorado: everyone argues about whether it really exists, and if anyone were to discover it they’d be rich beyond their wildest dreams.
Hybrid solutions are closer than ever- but they still can’t compare to the performance and reliability of native apps.
Enter React Native, a relative newcomer that aims to live up to the “write once, run everywhere” promise. React Native apps are native apps, just built using a different toolset, and their popularity is booming with developers and businesses alike.
Of course, while React Native is an incredible and promising tool it isn’t the long-awaited “map to El Dorado”. There are still limitations when it’s held up against native apps.
Read on to explore the power of React Native, find out where its limitations lie, and decide where it fits in a modern enterprise technology stack.
What is React Native?
The framework’s main selling point is its ability to create cross-platform apps that provide a much better user experience than the current hybrid options on the market, closer to that of native apps.
The Case For React Native
Because these are the same building blocks iOS and Android use, React Native apps render like native apps. They have the same native look and feel device loyalists expect.
Developers have the option to write and embed custom native code, as well as writing in a mixture of native and React to get the exact function desired while maintaining the native appearance.
Native rendering is a huge benefit. Besides the obvious boost to user experience, it gives React Native a host of additional perks.
With React Native, one codebase runs on iOS, Windows, and Android. Only a small portion of the app needs to be customized for each operating system. It provides faster, more reliable performance than hybrid or web apps, too.
That cuts development time for an app by as much as half while still supporting multiple platforms. If there’s already a web app, much of that code can be used with React Native to trim development timelines even more.
React Native is a dynamic toolset with a lot of productivity features, like integrated components that provide “shortcuts” to common tasks. The framework also uses hot reloading, so developers don’t have to recompile the entire app every time they make a change.
Besides playing a role in React Native’s fast development speed, these features create an enjoyable, productive developer experience. Cutting out unnecessary interruptions helps developers stay engaged, which leads to better end products.
There are clear savings in both time and money when one app can be repurposed to cover all devices. There are fewer overall development costs and a lower up-front investment. Maintaining one code base lowers long-term maintenance expenses.
Even when the additional code to tailor the app for each operating system is considered, there’s much less work involved than in building multiple independent native apps. Plus, more efficient development means that the single React Native app is done sooner than comparable apps.
Add in the shorter time to market (and the ability to begin working towards ROI) and it’s easy to see how the savings add up.
The Case Against React Native
There’s a strong argument to be made that React Native comes closer to mimicking native apps that any of its current competitors. The idea to use natively-rendered components is an innovative approach with a lot of promise.
However, there are tradeoffs involved in making it work that mean React Native apps still fall short of native ones. Here are the major issues critics have with the framework:
The number one drawback to React Native is performance. It is better than other hybrid tools and web apps, but there’s no getting around the large overhead framework that slows down performance when measured against native apps.
For straightforward, simple apps and proof-of-concept work, the reduction in performance isn’t noticeable enough to have a huge impact. Using React Native for anything more complex could mean taking a hit to user experience.
As mentioned earlier, the “write once, use anywhere” motto isn’t entirely accurate. Developers have to configure the app for each platform. The size of that extra bit of code depends on the app’s function and the relevant operating system (some are more React-friendly than others).
In practice anywhere from 60-90% of the codebase can be fully shared. Although this still cuts development time by a significant amount, it does mean React Native isn’t a perfect platform-agnostic solution.
React Native apps are bigger than native apps. This has a few unfortunate side effects. Users with older or economy model devices might not be able to handle it.
Those in developing markets often don’t have reliable access to 3G networks, so downloading large apps takes too much time. Finally, customers don’t like to use all their device storage on apps.
They might not download a large app, and when they start to run out of room for photos larger apps are the first to get deleted. Good developers have a few tricks for reducing the size of a React Native app, but it’s still something to keep in mind.
Quality Assurance Issues
Debugging React Native gets complicated. Apps can be made with a mixture of custom native code, third party plug-ins, and regular React Native components.
It takes experience to navigate the app when tracking down the source of a problem.
The downside of being new and innovative is that React Native still has maturing to do. Facebook is actively tweaking and updating in response to user feedback, but they tend to be slow to update the software development kits (SDKs) when Android or Apple does.
Also worth mentioning is that as a younger tool, the documentation isn’t as user-friendly as it could be. It varies between highly dense in some places and too loose to be helpful in others.
That’s something that will ease over time, but right now it can be a hassle. New third-party libraries springing up are a mixed blessing: they offer more options for shortcuts but can introduce vulnerabilities into an app if they aren’t vetted carefully.
Looking at alternatives is a useful way to define a project’s priorities and decide whether React Native is the best fit. Here’s how it stack up against other formats:
- Native apps: Native apps are the only practical option for graphics- and processing-intensive apps. They outperform every other type of app on the market. It takes time and money to build native apps, though, and most enterprise apps don’t need that level of performance to be successful.
- Hybrid apps: Hybrid apps are essentially web apps with a native “wrapper”. They have the same advantages as React Native when it comes to development speed and cost savings. However, most hybrid apps can’t fully access device hardware, and their UIs don’t have a native feel.
- Progressive Web Apps (PWA): PWAs operate within a browser. They can be given the feel of a native app and even can access some device features with the user’s permission. Their biggest draw is that users don’t need to download anything before use. On the flip side, PWAs don’t have full device access and use battery faster than other app formats. Without an app store presence they suffer in mobile search rankings, too.
Making the Call
When used for an app that plays to its strengths, React Native is a serious force-multiplier. It enables faster development, more responsive update cycles, and that all important “native UI” feel that consumers respond to.
It’s simple to build a basic, flexible app and scale it as usage grows. A lot of major players (besides Facebook and Instagram) use React Native in their apps, including:
Used outside its strengths, however, React Native adds an unnecessary layer of complexity. Developers unfamiliar with it can wind up with a large, convoluted, hard to manage codebase.
It isn’t well-suited to CPU-intensive apps, either. Trying to substitute React Native where a truly native app is needed leads to performance issues and the resulting degraded user experience. (It should be noted that a growing number of lighter VR/AR apps are being built with React Native, so the lines are blurring.)
Making the call on whether to use React Native depends on the app at hand. As a general rule it should be considered for projects where user experience and budget are equally important and when development speed is critical.
It should be ruled out for apps that are expected to be CPU-intensive (which is still the wheelhouse of native apps) or where the download barrier is a major concern (which might be better suited to Progressive Web Apps).
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They know that each problem calls for a specific solution.
Consultations take time, but they’re worth it. React Native has a host of benefits to offer if a specific app does fall within its “sweet spot”.
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