This means that predicting trends in the tech world is incredibly hard (but not impossible). For app developers though, knowing what’s up and coming is important as betting on the right technologies could mean the difference between sinking and swimming.
So, after hearing from some smart sages at Apps World Asia 2011 on where the, erm, apps world is heading, we present you with five predictions about how the landscape will look like in one to two years.
1) Geolocation will be used in more interesting ways (beyond just check-ins)
Jon Peterson, co-founder of app developer company buUuk, thinks that more app developers will make use of ‘background location’, which is a feature now available for iOS and Android phones that allows apps to follow a phone user’s location — even when it’s not open. Traditionally, apps only track location when they’re opened.
Apps that use background location are already out on the market. BuUuk’s WeatherLah, for instance, will issue an alert if an area you’ve just entered into is about to rain. The tracking is done in the background. The company is also currently working with Singapore’s Land Transport Authority to map out the routes people on a daily basis and preemptively feed them traffic reports.
Many apps out there that are also experimenting with using geolocation in a myriad of ways. This article highlights other interesting ones.
2) HTML5 will emerge and take the place of some native apps
You know a redundant app when you see one. With apps being the ‘in’ and ‘cool’ thing nowadays, everyone wants to get in on the action, even if it means jumping into an overcrowded pool. For example, some apps are nothing more than a collection of articles, links, and videos — you don’t need an app for that.
Sirina Sisombat, Asia Pacific head of sales Asia Pacific at app development company Haiku, said as much. She believes developing a mobile website would be more cost-effective and may even reach out to more consumers. And in time to come, HTML5 could even take the place of some apps, making native apps even more redundant.
App developers are safe for the moment though. Narmeet Singh, co-founder and solutions architect at HD Interactive, says that while HTML5 could eventually be used to create websites that look and feel like an app, the technology would take at least two years to mature.
But the benefits of HTML5 are easy to see, according to this VentureBeat article. Many are even predicting the total demise of the native app, since it allows app developers to easily build across platforms at lower cost. Compatibility issues are overcome too, since all a smartphone user needs is the right web browser.
In addition, “HTML5 apps are searchable by crawlers such as Google’s search engine, ensuring that the apps can be discovered by billions of consumers. They can mash content with data or apps from third parties, and access analytical services such as traffic measurement tools, and ad server targeting technologies. You don’t need to get anyone’s permission to distribute an HTML5 app.”
It’s not a given that native apps will be phased out though. Web apps will be limited by issues like browsing speed and the availability of 4G networks. Also, it remains unclear if HTML5 will allow access to a smartphone’s bluetooth, NFC, or push notification features.
Also, as a standards initiative, HTML5 would have trouble keeping up with the fast-paced development of mobile platforms. This means native apps may still have an edge in implementing more sophisticated and advanced smartphone features.
3) Minority Report will become reality
At least that’s what Douglas Gan, founder and CEO of ShowNearby, believes. His company created Singapore’s leading location-based app which tells users about the services that are located in their vicinity. These include banks, ATMs, restaurants, and even religious buildings.
He said that we could be seeing more implementations of augmented reality in the near future: You could stand in front of a movie poster, place your phone in front of it, and a movie trailer would pop up. You would even be able to buy movie tickets or check movie timings on the spot.
In fact, Warner Bros has already begun experimenting with such features. Although the movie (Green Lantern) was horrendous, I thought the augmented reality implementation was pretty cool. The Green Lantern app, powered by UK company Zappar, allows movie fans to unlock audio clips, visual animations, and even pre-book tickets by scanning hot spots on the movie poster.
4) Rise of brokerage services that allow developers to place their apps in multiple app stores easily.
I wrote recently about how the bright future of the mobile apps ecosystem in Asia. The downside though is that the market will be extremely fragmented. In Asia especially, language barriers will pose a challenge for app developers looking to expand to markets in China, Indonesia, Japan, and Korea — countries where English is not the native language.
This creates even more diversity within the apps ecosystem: Differences in platforms (Android versus Apple versus Others), and multiple app marketplaces within a single platform (Android Market, Amazon Appstore, and so on).
So, opportunistic entrepreneurs, take note: The rise in the sheer number of apps and app stores is creating a gap which can be met by a brokerage service that offers an affordable one-stop solution for developers to submit and promote their apps in the dozens of app stores out there.
5) The enterprise app market will explode
While consumer oriented apps are certainly sexy and headline-hogging, the real moolah is in enterprise solutions. Microsoft knows this well, as the Business Division’s earnings are comparable to its Windows counterpart.
Other big players like Google and Amazon have also gotten into the enterprise space with Google Apps for Business and Amazon EC2, even though they are more well-known for being oriented towards mainstream users.
And while cloud services are certainly gaining more prominence, the native enterprise app segment is set to grow as well due to the emergence of ‘consumerization’ or ‘BYOD’ (bring your own device) — where employees demand to use their personal devices (smartphones, laptops, and tablets) as primary work interfaces. This creates a thirst for cloud-based and native apps.
However, boutique app developers who want to go into this market face a different set of challenges. And since the enterprise apps market is still new, a lot of experimentation are going on. Security is a major issue — how do enterprise apps keep company data secure in the instance a device is stolen?
For Kriti Kapoor, managing director of Appio Labs, the solution lies in using personal devices as a frontend which gathers enterprise data but doesn’t store them. But she does have clients that would like their employees to have company data stored directly on their devices, so ensuring security in this scenario requires a different approach.
App developers also face a distribution problem. While Microsoft can rely on its existing customer base to generate revenue stream, app developers have no such headstart. Enterprise app stores work differently from consumer-oriented ones — they’re mostly internal, which means limited distribution. And while Apple does offer a B2B App Store, it’s only available in the US.
Although mortal app developers may have a problem breaking into the market, the sneaky ones can consider benefiting from the BYOD phenomenon by developing consumer apps that also have business applications. Dropbox and Amazon Web Services are great examples, and they’ve proven to be indispensable in the office.
Top photo: Ben Babcock
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