Long gone are the days of Walkman, floppy disks, and hailing a cab. These days, everything you need to find and do can be found simply by opening your mobile phone.

 

When the decade began, the only thing stored in a cloud was precipitation. And apps? Well, they were a brand new concept entirely. Initially, weren’t even called apps, they were “features”.

 

After a boom in the beginning of the decade, “app” was established as Word of the Year . If only we knew how big of a role apps would play over the course of the decade. 

 

1. iPad and iPhone 4 Set the Stage for  Mobile Tech

 

The 2010’s began with the late Steve Jobs unveiling his newest groundbreaking product, the iPad.

There was a mixed reception of the iPad from the media but eventually skeptics couldn’t deny the impact it had.

In 2010, Time Magazine named the iPad one of the 50 top inventions of 2010. 

Today, the iPad has spawned off into several sub products (the Mini, Air and Pro) – as Apple has become well known for each with a different purpose to help satisfy any consumer. 

In 2015, Apple sought to integrate an element of nostalgia with the introduction of the Apple Pencil for use with the iPad. 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. 

When it came to apps, developers, used to building for mobile, 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 was a drastic upgrade from the iPhone 3. One of its prominent features being the first front facing camera on a mobile phone, 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 by demonstrating the endless capabilities mobile devices can have in improving our lives professionally, academically, and personally.

2. Say “Hello” to Siri

 

Just over a year after the iPhone 4’s release, Apple announced the launch of 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 since grown leaps and bounds. Today’s mobile personal assistants are more accurate, more articulate and more accessible than ever before.

While Siri was a major advancement for the industry, VUI had a stagnant spell following 2011. Not until the introduction of smart speakers, like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, did voice control become more widely adopted

Google uncovered that 20% of searches today are done using voice 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 anyone building a mobile app, incorporating VUI will be an important consideration.

 

3. Social Media Domination 

 

Social media is a big part of western culture. Facebook is the widely recognized pioneer of the social media era. Its 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.

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 1998. Prior to this, portable gaming was left to heavyweights like Nintendo and PlayStation, with devices like Game Boy and the PlayStation Portable (PSP). 

The introduction of the App Store, in 2008, gave consumers the option to customize their device try downloading apps that met their wants and needs.

Getting new games or apps to market was also made easier. The App Store allowed developers to bypass the traditional 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; as did Candy Crush and Angry Birds.

Angry Birds, in particular, is arguably 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 lead the pack when it comes to generating a profit.

They are the top money makers in the App Store, accounting for 77% of all app revenue.

In 2020, games continue to make big headway in demonstrating the profit potential that exists within mobile apps. Their addictive nature and extensive use of in-app purchases are a winning combination.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 

5. Size Matters

 

Early cell phones are often likened to a brick – large and clunky. On the flip side, 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 complex technology they could fit into smaller and smaller devices.

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, but its nothing compared to the 6.5 inches of today’s iPhone 11 Pro Max.  

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 terms of app development, this is a big deal. 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 designed with graphics and colour, but if the app is physically awkward to navigate, people won’t want to use it. 

Bigger screen sizes, with their flexibility and available space, are contributing to a heightened aesthetic and functionality of apps in any category.

 

6. On Cloud Nine

 

Similar to screen size, a focus on storage seemed to be a competition among man companies in the the 2000’s. This decade popularized the transfer of information 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. This prompted him and some friends 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 an automatic 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 allows iOS users to backup their data through the cloud, creating seamless transitions between and amongst Apple devices. Google Drive is becoming an integral part of how teams collaborate – on desktop and mobile. 

The advancements with 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 SaaS apps made specifically for data storage. 

 

7. Brand New Career Paths

 

Behind every successful app there is a team responsible for designing, developing and creating the app.

Today, there are entire careers built solely around the study, development, improvement, maintenance and use of mobile devices. 

This decade introduced formalized training and education surrounding app design, development and creation. Otherwise, jobs like this were localized to companies like Apple.  

In addition, as social media began to develop, so too did the rise of influencers. Popular personalities on platforms, like YouTube and Instagram, began attracting a large following based on the content they produced and published. 

This, in turn, led to new ways to monetize these otherwise free apps, with brands paying these creators to share their products and services with their large followings.  People who generate a big following with high engagement can make an impressive income via social media. 

 

8. Out of Our Pockets and Onto Our Wrists

 

When Sony teamed up with Fossil and created the first watch that connected to bluetooth, this sparked the launch of the smartwatch era.

The MBW-100 helped showcase the abilities of a smartwatch but, ultimately, it wasn’t a success. The watch could only connect the SonyEricsson 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 smartwatches increased with the Pebble. Pebble was a crowdfunded smartwatch that raised an
impressive $10 million on kickstarter in just over a month. 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 and in 2013 companies like Samsung, Apple, Google, LG and more started seriously investing in the development if wearable tech.

 The following year 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 upon apps to not only accommodate but incorporated such advanced technology. 

 

9. Reality Check

 

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are both acronyms that are slowly but surely becoming widely recognized and, whether its known or not, widely used.  

The advancements in these tools provide a glimpse as to where apps 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 headset 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. 

 

10. AI and ML

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

AI and ML possess a 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. 

 

What’s Next?

When the App Store was released in 2008, there were just over 500 mobile apps ready for download. Going into 2020, there are over 2.2 million at our disposal. 

This oversaturation of the market means app creators have to be better equipped than ever before to adapt and respond to the changing needs of their users. 

There has yet to be a one-size-fits-all solution that will guarantee mobile app success, but it’s clear that innovation is at the forefront. 

Moving into a new decade we are equipped with more robust technology, faster connections and more creative thinking than ever before. We’re eager to see what the 2020’s have in store!

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