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6 big trends mobile developers should tap in 2017

Matthew David Digital Leader, Accenture
Person using a smart phone

Mobile has moved rapidly from fad device to trend in technology, and in 2017 mobile will move to the center of your life as an application developer. Yes, this means that the PC will continue to diminish in relevance.

While it's fool's errand to guess the future, there are trends from last year that will flow into 2017 and define the year. Here are the developments that my mobile development team will be watching for, and how we plan to anticipate and adjust to those changes in the coming year.  


1. Mobile payments in Asia is outpacing the US

Black Friday sales proved it again: Mobile commerce accounted for 30% of all e-commerce Black Friday sales in the US last year. But the US is not a good yardstick to measure the progress of mobile payment systems. Look to Asia in particular—to China, Korea, and India.

These three countries either have strong cashless systems in place (China and Korea) or are moving quickly into implementing systems built on mobile platforms. Starbucks will dominate in the US during 2017 as a leader in mobile payments. Expect to see Starbucks license its technology to other companies.

To support this, we are defining two distinct e-commerce strategies. The first model supports our consumers use mostly mobile for e-commerce (with a primary focus on Android apps). The second model is a hybrid mobile/desktop e-commerce solution for nations that are adopting but have not fully moved to mobile only. And, yes, USA is part of this second group.

There are challenges in supporting two different models: You need a broader set of developers, there are additional tools our leaders need to understand in order to approve purchasing, and our business requires a deeper technology savviness. The result, however, is that we are keeping the customer and their needs central to the consumer journey.

There are too many companies taking short cuts such as building desktop-only sites and assuming pinch-and-zoom will be enough. This is lazy. The world is moving fast, and the solution is to go fast with it. 

2. Social commerce is coming

Social commerce is the new channel where consumers can buy a product directly in a chat app such as Facebook Messenger. The “win” for the consumer is that they can have the group they are chatting with provide immediate feedback on the product, buy it, and still keep the conversation going. weChat and Weibo are proving in the Asia-Pacific region that consumers want to buy while chatting.

Facebook and Apple are leading the way for social commerce in the western world. The Messenger and iMessage platforms, respectively, will build out whole ecosystems for existing and new brands. A good example is Jet (recently acquired by Walmart). Jet is a grocery shopping app that shows deals as you buy more product in real time. It is a natural solution for Apple’s iMessage platform. Using iMessage, a group can chat and share a Jet shopping list and make the final purchase without leaving the chat group. In this instance, the customer unit is central to the consumer journey.

The big question with social commerce for a developer is: what do I need to learn? There is good news and bad news. The good news: Weibo is built with JavaScript and iMessage uses standard Xcode development with Swift. The bad news: all social commerce platforms are very new and will likely change. The result is that the work you are doing now will probably be thrown away when the platforms change.

With that said, my recommendation is that try to do something. Anything you do will be a learning experience that will position your company to grow as social commerce grows. For my team, we started by creating Stickers for iOS. A simple, 24-hour project. What we have learned is that our customer love stickers. We now have a baseline to try something else.

3. More phones and more mobile devices

Mobile phones are now so powerful that it is hard to notice the improvements when they come. In many ways, the reason why there is such a focus on the camera for high-end phones is that it is one of the remaining areas where a new phone can shine. Expect more phones in 2017 with dual- or even triple-lens cameras that bring the phone camera closer and closer to SLR quality.

Gimmicks such as having two cameras (one on the top of the phone and one of the bottom) will enable simple 3D video/photos, but the real investment will be in cameras and software that continue to do what we want: make a better picture.

For my group, the constant increase in mobile devices means more mobile testing. We're looking at mobile device cloud services, which are in essence, a collection of thousands of mobile devices and operating systems in the cloud that are available for parallel testing. These services provide easy-to-create test scripting tools that can be re-used and scaled. They also allow us to decrease the number of people running manual tests and increase the number of automated tests run every day.

4. Virtual and augmented reality gets real

There is a lot of buzz for virtual and augmented reality. Today, companies such as Samsung and Facebook are investing heavily in VR. My prediction is that AR will be the big winner in 2017. If you don't already know, AR is a digital layer that is placed on top of the physical world. The success of Pokemon Go is evidence that this is the direction to go.

I expect VR and AR to merge into a single category. Today, K-C is already working with simple VR solutions to test out the technology and see how we can use it. Last year we released a VR-360 video to demonstrate how video can be communicated in a new way. Other areas we expect VR and AR to be of value is with manufacturing safety. AR/VR is a new segment, but just like social commerce, it is growing. You should use 2017 as a year for innovation in VR/AR.

5. Google plays up Firebase and Play services

No technology is successful without developers. Expect all of the mobile tech companies to continue to court developers. Google, in particular, nwill woo developers by extending developer-friendly services such as Firebase and Play. Firebase was introduced in June 2016 at Google I/O, and you should expect a big update at this year's event.

We use a lot of the Google Firebase services. Products such app indexing and notifications (both free) improve the productivity of my team. We no longer need to use third-party services or open source solutions to fill this gap. My expectation is that Google will continue to invest in Firebase services. Now is a good time for your development team to learn how to leverage Firebase.

6.'Mobile first' goes beyond the phone

The concept of a mobile first strategy has long been shorthand for “build an app and they will come.” Mobile teams delivering apps in 2016 learned a valuable lesson: an app is the only component of a Mobile First Strategy. New solutions such as Amazon Echo, Smart TVs, and Apple Watch are demonstrating that mobile first has a new meaning: your content, on any device, when you want it.

The approach we are taking with mobile first is that the person buying our products is the center of the story. Where and how that person buys is where we must move.

These are the trends, as I see them, that will have an impact on your decisions around developing for mobile in 2017. If you have any additional mobile trends you're seeing, or you want to discuss one of mine, let's talk in the comments section below.


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