What do apps look like in 2018?


6 minute read
Jo Morrison

Jo Morrison

Director of Digital Innovation & Research

Digital Insights

With a new year rapidly approaching, we’re once again starting to ruminate on the app developments that 2018 will bring. We love a good prediction – and in our humble opinion, we didn’t do badly with our Mystic Meg-style piece from the start of this year.

As we predicted, 2017 has seen growth in AI, React Native as a development platform, digital placemaking and ‘invisible apps’ (although we’re still waiting for Tom’s talking toilet to become reality.)

So what of next year? Well, we put word round the team again, asked everyone to gaze into their respective crystal balls and share their visions of the app world in 2018. Here’s what they came up with…

The iWatch will give us a glimpse of the future

While the hullaballoo has been around the launch of the new iPhone(s), for our money, the big release for Apple this year was the Apple Watch Series 3, featuring cellular connectivity for the first time. This is huge.

While the market is still growing, we’re undoubtedly at the bottom of the S-Curve for wearable tech, and the rise will, we think, be rapid. In the same way that Apple’s iPhone disrupted the laptop market, so the connected iWatch will disrupt smartphones. We’re by no means predicting the death of the smartphone, that’s centuries away, but as developers begin to explore the new possibilities, so fascinating innovations will come to light.

Something very big will capture the public’s imagination on these smallest of devices next year, and the driver will be apps.

Increased usage of voice recognition

The uptake in voice recognition software has surged in the last couple of years: ComScore predict that 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. A survey from mid-2017 suggests that 9% of UK households now own an Amazon Echo – a figure set to hit 40% in 2018 – while the Google Home and the Apple HomePod are throwing their considerable commercial might into the ring.

The growth in voice search has paved the way for a new breed of voice interactions, with apps in 2018 likely to put smart conversation at their heart. The new Intel Speech Enabling Developer Kit provides all of the hardware required for Alexa voice control, meaning that all developers need to do is write the applications they require.

Employee training, customer service and brand interactions will all get the voice treatment: legal services provider LegalShield has already launched a customer service solution for Google Home and Alexa, while virtual and mixed reality startup Portico Studios has created a customer services training system that uses voice recognition, allowing new hires to interact with virtual customers and receive feedback on their performance.

Some of the biggest app innovations in 2018 will have voice at their heart.

Artificial intelligence will become more complex

The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution is already underway and 2018 will continue this trend towards the ‘smart’. Developing AI is still expensive, and requires a great deal of work (and data), but early adopters in the app space will start to roll out more complex forms of AI that go beyond the chatbot.

Apple is working on a chip that will be dedicated specifically to AI tasks, following in the footsteps of Qualcomm Inc. and Google. The plan is for the chip to be integrated into a number of Apple devices, and to offer developer access to improve the AI performance of third-party apps.

We could see apps linked to fitness trackers, which recommend workout plans based on your goals, your burn rate and your exercise levels. Banking apps could detect fraudulent activity more quickly and more accurately based on data patterns that have been analysed. Even chatbots could become more complex, recognising customer languages and locations, and responding in the correct language, with local solutions. The possibilities are endless, and that’s why it will dominate the next 12 months of bleeding edge app innovation.

ARKit/ARCore will enter the mainstream

Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore were both revealed in 2017: new platforms for developing augmented reality (AR) apps for mobile devices. Already, both iOS and Android developers have created AR apps using these tools – but as things currently stand, apps that allow you to stack blocks or visualise atoms in real world items are more style over substance.

AppReal suggest a range of innovative potential business uses for new AR developer tools, including AR dating apps (which scan crowds for fellow singles meeting a user’s search criteria), interior design apps that allow users to visualise what their new decor would look like in situ, and AR-based apps for hikers that keep them on safe paths, and direct them back to where they want to be should they become lost.

A surge in instant apps

Google’s Instant Apps were first announced at the Google I/O conference way back in May 2016  – allowing users the full functionality of apps without having to head to the Play Store, download the app, install, log in and all the rest of it. The idea was to make things quicker and simpler for the end user.

However, Google had previously had to load support for every possible device, which slowed down access to the app and ate up valuable processing power and space, defeating the object entirely. That, coupled with a lack of enterprise organisation and marketing services support and a lack of web-native parity has led to stuttering growth.

A recent slew of updates has promised to make them leaner and faster than ever, which may be the push developers and the public need to fully embrace them. We think, with this renewed focus by Google, 2018 may well see the rebirth of Instant Apps.

And finally…

While technology often dominates these kinds of lists, one of the biggest changes to the app world is the increased functionality and features of apps themselves. In 2008, when Apple’s App Store was first launched, ‘app’ referred to a full-screen application on your mobile phone.

In 2009, Apple launched the Apple Push Notification Service with iOS 3 (a move mirrored by Google a year later) which meant that interaction with an app could begin either with the app, or with the user.

In 2018, the rise of voice search, AI, the Internet of Things and other technologies means the functionality of apps will stretch even further, placing itself as the beating heart of mobile devices and wearables, even melding itself into the very fabric of society with the control systems and monitoring devices for smart cities. Never before has app technology been so integral to our digital lives, and 2018 will see our relationship with them bloom further still.

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