Arriving into 2020, long gone are the days of uploading images to a third party site, twitpic, to embed photos to a tweet comprised of 140 characters or less. When the decade began, the only thing stored in a cloud was precipitation. Apps, initially, weren’t even called apps, they were “features”. After a tremendous influx in the beginning of the decade, “app” was established as Word of the Year in 2010, but it could be argued that it was not only the word, but an overarching phenomena of the decade as well.
1. iPad and iPhone 4
The 2010’s began with the late Steve Jobs unveiling his newest groundbreaking product, the iPad. There was mixed reception of the ipad from media. Skeptics, however, couldn’t deny the impact the iPad had. Time Magazine named it one of the 50 top inventions of 2010.
Today, the iPad has morphed into separate subgenres, each with a different purpose to help satisfy any consumer. With the Mini, Air and Pro options all serving demographics of their own, the product has found its place in a variety of markets. In 2015 Apple sought to integrate an element of nostalgia with the introduction of the Apple Pencil. The product aimed to be the most realistic alternative to pen and paper. Featuring an unmatched ergonomic feel, combined with an updated notes app to complement its functionality, the Pencil catered to graphic designers and students alike.
In terms of apps, developers then had to reconfigure and redesign their apps to accommodate the larger screen. From both a UX and UI design standpoint, a bigger screen did not simply mean a bigger layout. Creators didn’t want their app’s functionality and user journey to be compromised.
In June of 2010, on the heels of the iPad’s release, Apple steps back into the scene to release the iPhone 4. The device had a sleek design, improved operating systems and featured the first front facing camera, revolutionizing the “selfie”. This phone was one small step for Apple and one giant leap for mobile apps. The iPhone 4 was the first cell phone to be sent to outer space. In fact, they brought two of them to the International Space Station on the STS-135 mission. Equipped with apps engineered for the mission, the phone performed various experiments during the trip. This product made impressive headway for demonstrating the endless capabilities mobile devices have in improving professional, academic, and personal facets of day-to-day life.
2. Say “Hello” to Siri
Just over a year after the iPhone 4’s release, in October of 2011, Apple announced the iPhone 4S. The “S” in the name stood for “Siri”. This device was the first phone to have an intelligent personal assistant. Siri was the world’s most prominent introduction to Voice User Interfaces (VUI).
Voice recognition has come leaps and bounds since. These mobile personal assistants are more accurate, articulate and accessible. While Siri was a major advancement for the industry, VUI had a stagnant spell following 2011. The more significant rise and domination in the adoption of voice control came with the introduction of smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Google uncovered that 20% of searches today are done through VUI and that number is expected to double within the next year. By 2022, 50% of US households are projected to have a smart speaker.
For apps, this means looking into incorporating VUI into their product. Some apps are working towards being able to allow users to avail of or access products/services delivered through their app via VUI and smart home speakers.
3. Social Media Frenzy
Social media is a big part of western culture. Facebook is the widely recognized pioneer of the social media era. Facebook’s predecessor, MySpace, made great strides in social networking but failed to match the agility of Facebook as well as its ability to predict trends and anticipate mobility. Facebook released their app in 2008. While it was relatively unrivaled, users still gravitated toward the functionality and ease of use the desktop site provided. However, with the design of the smartphone evolving, both inside and out, apps like Facebook were becoming easier to access and use.
Instagram was born in 2010 as an Apple iOS app. The old fashioned polaroid icon started gracing iPhone across North America. It wasn’t until 2012 that Instagram released it’s app for Android, opening up an entirely new set of users. The photo sharing app sparked the ongoing journey of users navigating how they want to consume their content. Up until then, content was primarily text. Uploading and sharing photos was a task built for desktop. The mobile option was often convoluted and compromised the image quality and size. When Instagram navigated this barrier, users were intrigued and eventually hooked.
As seen today, the preferred medium for consumption has evolved to video. The introduction of 4G, mobile software being built to accommodate video combined with the installation of better cameras onto devices, has made creating, watching and streaming videos easier than ever. Apps like Snapchat and Vine were then produced to satisfy the user’s craving for video, particularly, short form video. The mid 2010’s fostered a dynamic where information and content was delivered and consumed in short bite-sized chunks. Videos were six seconds on Vine and Snapchat videos topped out at 10 seconds. However, social media trends aren’t known for being stationary. A yo-yo effect has emerged. Users today, are gravitating towards longer but more engaging and entertaining content. It is predicted that long-form video will be the upcoming trend in this new decade, but again, predicting an environment of this nature is a difficult task.
4. “Got any Games on Your Phone?”
One of the first installations of a game on a mobile device was “Snake”, which was preinstalled on Nokia devices in 1997. Prior to this, portable gaming was left to heavyweights like Nintendo and PlayStation, who introduced devices like Game Boy and the PlayStation Portable (PSP).
The introduction of the App Store gave consumers the option to download apps and customize their device to their wants and needs. Getting new games or apps to market was easier. The app store allowed developers to bypass the convoluted negotiation process between operators and publishers and get their product to market with little delay.
Early successes like Fruit Ninja and Doodle Jump rose to fame quickly. People of all ages were entranced with the concept of slicing digital produce with their finger. Other notable gaming apps include Candy Crush and Angry Birds. Angry Birds, in particular, is argued to be the best iOS game ever released in terms of its popularity. The franchise branched beyond the confines of a mobile game and released physical branded products. They even tested the waters in traditional media with the release of a movie.
Gaming apps are the frontiers when it comes to generating a profit. They are the top money makers in the App Store, accounting for 80% of all app revenue. Games made big headway in demonstrating the profit potential that exists within mobile apps. The addictive nature of these games, and purchases being small but frequent created a casino like atmosphere, and as is known with gambling, the house always wins.
5. Size Matters
Early cell phones are infamous for their resemblance to a brick. Tech companies, in the 2000’s, seemed driven to see how small they could make the mobile phone. Moguls like Nokia and Motorola became fixated on showcasing the complexity of the technology they could fit into such a small device. The rise of texting sparked a transition from the T9 to QWERTY keyboard, making SMS messaging easier on users and their thumbs. While the new keyboard did increase the size of phones, it’s impact on size was small compared to that of the touch screen.
The original iPhone, introduced in 2007, is thought to have been the catalyst in sparking the rise of big screens. Measuring in at 3.5 inches, the iPhone screen size was a jump. Competitors like the LG Keybo measured in at a measly 2.6 inches. One may question today how they ever managed to type on such a small screen.
Increasing screen size on a phone has become such a phenomena that they have coined a new term to describe these behemoth phones; the “phablet”. In order to be considered a phablet, a phone’s screen needs to be 6 inches or more, nearly double the original iPhone.
In terms of app development, this is a big deal. Many mobile users have downloaded a clunky, poorly designed app in which one’s thumbs are just not long enough. These experiences even leading to a hand cramp, uncomfortable movements and, in some cases, dropping the device. Thumb mobility is growing to be a major consideration when designing apps. Apps can support a great idea, fulfill a universal need and be beautifully design with graphics and colour, but if the app is physically awkward to navigate, people won’t want to use it.
There is discussions on if phone size has peaked, arguing that, should screen size increase any further, holding a phone of that size to one’s ear would look ridiculous. With video becoming popularized and demanded by the public, one can only wait to see where this trend will go.
6. On Cloud Nine
Like screen size, coming out with small memory drives with impressive amounts of storage seemed to be a competition within the 2000’s. In the 2010’s, users started moving their storage from a physical device to the ”cloud”.
Dropbox, a well known file hosting service that offers cloud storage, was created in 2008 because an MIT student was getting frustrated with the amount of times he was losing his USB drive. Him and some friends decided to optimize online storage so that it was more accessible and functional for everyday use.
A more widely used form of cloud sharing and storage was introduced in 2012, and that is Google Drive. Many people were already affiliated with Google via their gmail accounts. This gave the company a connection to a pool of potential users. The new service brought in big competition for the Microsoft Office Suite. Google Drive provided equivalents for the features found in Office and elevated them by allowing users to collaborate and share documents in real time.
Cloud storage is now mainstream. iCloud is helping iOS users backup their data through the cloud, creating seamless transitions between and amongst Apple devices. Google Drive is becoming an integral part of how companies collaborate. This function has greatly enhanced the lives of students and any environment that fosters working within a group.
The advancements within cloud storage has both directly and indirectly affected app development. It allows for cheaper storage of user’s information, larger bandwidths and even the introduction of apps specifically for cloud storage.
7. Job Creation
Today, there are entire careers built solely around the existence, study, navigation, improvement and maintenance of mobile devices. Behind every successful app there is a team responsible for designing, developing and creating the app. Globally there are 8.7 million app developers, and this number is only rising. This decade introduced formalized training and education surrounding app design, development and creation. Otherwise, jobs like this were localized to companies like Apple.
As social media began to develop, there were personalities who attracted large followings. On platforms like YouTube it was because they produced widely liked content, on platforms like Instagram it was generally because their content was aesthetically pleasing or featured a persona in which people wanted to emulate. Initially these people created content for pleasure. It wasn’t until advertisers noticed the large group of engaged individuals seeking out this content that monetization came into the conversation. YouTube first introduced paying their top content creators by featuring ads on their videos and paying them based on views and ad engagement. Creators then discovered that the amount they were getting paid and the amount being given to YouTube were astronomically different. On top of this, YouTube introduced strict ad guidelines surrounding things like swearing and suggestive video content. This algorithm bumped a lot of videos from being able to produce any income. In light of this controversy, smaller brands started partnering with influencers and paying them directly to feature their product or discuss their service in their videos, as a “sponsorship”. This sponsorship format is carried over into Instagram and other apps. People who generate a big following with high engagement can make an impressive income via social media.
8. Wearable Tech
Tech has saturated our lives and has spread far beyond our phones. While wearable tech like Bluetooth has been around since 2002, 2014 was an influential year for this industry.
The smart watch era sparked when Sony teamed up with Fossil and created the first watch that connected to bluetooth. The MBW-100 helped showcase the abilities of a smartwatch but ultimately was not a success. The watch could only connect the Sony Ericsson phone, severely limiting the market potential. Shortly following in 2009, Burg Wearables launched the first autonomous smartwatch. The “Burg” was intended to have it’s own SIM card and thus did not need to be tethered to a cell phone. The award winning device was a good indicator for the advancements to come in the following decade.
The consumer demand for smart watches became prevalent with the Pebble. Pebble was a crowdfunded smartwatch that raised an impressive $10 million on kickstarter in just over a month in 2012. At the time, it was the highest funded project to date. Pebble could connect to Android and iOS phones and had their own app store for users. The overwhelming demand and success of Pebble caught the eye of the industry. In 2013, the list of companies seriously investing in the development of wearable tech contained giants like Samsung, Apple, Google, LG and more.
Going into 2014, these contenders paved the way for this new form of tech. So much so, that 2014 was deemed “The Year of Wearable Tech”. On top of watches, Google released the Google Glass, smart sunglasses that featured voice recognition, a camera and collaboration capabilities.
All of these variations of mobile technology meant that app developers had to learn, adapt and innovate. Developers and designers alike were tasked with figuring out how they were going to make and improve apps to not only accommodate but elevate the new mediums being introduced.
9. AR, AI and VR – Oh my!
Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are all acronyms that are slowly but surely becoming widely recognized and, whether its known or not, widely used.
The advancements in these tools gives a glimpse as to where apps and mobile are headed. AR and VR are very similar, and often are confused or interchanged with one another. Virtual Reality requires a user to be submerged into said reality, usually through the use of a head piece that blocks out any peripheral vision, leaving only the screen in view. Whereas, Augmented Reality adds something to the reality you are in, usually through a camera. Both AR and VR have had immense growth in the latter part of the decade. VR hubs and cafes were opening up in cities across North America. Department stores are now selling these headsets so consumers can download VR apps and experience it in their own homes. Apps like Snapchat and Instagram have incorporated AR through filters. Changing one’s face into a puppy takes quite a bit of advanced technology. Using these technologies has had tremendous benefits for apps. Users are engaged, pleased with the experience and staying on the apps longer. All of these leading to better brand recognition and, ultimately, more downloads. AR and VR are here to stay in apps and developers are continually looking at ways to incorporate this interactive feature to draw in new users and retain current usership.
AI and ML possess a similar synonymatic relationship in that they are often looked at as one in the same. Put broadly, AI explains that machines can act intelligently, whereas ML aims to demonstrate that machines can learn. Big advancements within AI and ML with regards to apps is personalization. ML is able to take user habits, derive meaning from them, and optimize user experience. Aside from the obvious marketing benefits, ML will help devices anticipate a user’s next move, and find ways it can help or make things easier before a user even has a chance to ask.
10. “There’s an App for That.”
In 2009 Apple coined the phrase “there’s an app for that”, and ten years later, that sentiment has never been more true. People use apps daily. On average, smartphone owners spend 3.1 hours a day on their devices. Roughly, 75% of that time is spent on apps. When the App Store was released in 2008, there were just over 500 apps ready for download. Going into 2020, there are over 2.2 million at our disposal.
Apps have transformed from being convenient features on phones, to becoming established and seemingly necessary facets of our daily routines. Uber is apart of some peoples’ regular commute routine, others use Amazon’s app to order groceries and household necessities.
Not only has there been a transformation from analog to digital, the 2010’s has taken it a step further in pushing from digital to mobile. Televisions are being replaced with tablets. Society witnessed the death of Blockbuster via Netflix and it’s up for debate on whether cable is destitute to the same fate.
Apps have taken over our culture so much that there are apps made to keep users off of their phones. This oversaturation of the market means app creators have to be evolving, innovating and catering to their market. This means delivering an app that satisfies a need, but does so in a way that is easy to use, in a format users want, enclosed in an idea that hasn’t been done yet. This labyrinth is studied by many but conquered by few. There has yet to be a cure-all equation that leads app developers to success. As in any industry, the route to success is different for everyone and, if replicated, will not yield identical results.
Moving into a new decade we are equipped with more robust technology, faster connections and a population who carry a world of information in their pockets. With advancements like this under our belt, both common consumers and techies alike are eager to see what’s in store for the 2020’s.