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September 30, 2015
More Than Just Mobile: App Developers (Should) Know
By: Mike Alexander

Enabling a "single" digital experience across computing devices for their employees is a priority for a lot of our clients. For the highest productivity and user experience, they want the interactive experience to be the same on any device, at any time. For mobile developers, the prospect of a single anything is a daunting task because mobility needs and technologies are so different than desk-bound versions. But the reality of our new mobile world is that the barrier between what's mobile and what's not is slowly but surely starting to crumble, and user's expectations of what their "mobile apps" can do is quickly starting to transcend devices. 

They're not just mobile apps, they're "Omni" apps… 

The days of siloed app stores are numbered. The new AppleTV demonstrated the wide range of possibilities for commerce on devices that traditionally didn't see much business transacted through them. For example, clothes shopping using virtual reality through companies like Gilt. Domino's is enticing gamers with Pizza ordering straight from their Xbox One. The jury is still out on a lot of other devices, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that we're starting to see watches, door locks and even toys talking to each other and the apps we use. We are heading into an era where interaction points with users are going to be early, often and across devices of all types. Apps need to best leverage all those interaction points in ways that are contextually relevant to the user and work across multiple platforms. 

Development Tools Are Consolidating

The consolidation of development tools really means that the days of standalone "mobile" app development are done- we're now developing for consumption on a wide range of devices. We're seeing this today in the Apple ecosystem- apps for its newest platform, tvOS, will be developed in xCode. Android Marshmallow's SDK includes support for TV and car-based apps. Microsoft is launching the “universal” app with Windows 10. We can expect cross platform development and API management tools to make the process of porting across platforms easier as new OS and form factors grow in popularity. 

IoT Era: Connected Devices are gaining popularity

Though smartphones still lead the way in sales, connected devices of all kinds mark the start of the Internet of Everything (IoT) explosion and are both growing in popularity and coming down in price. Streaming media players for TVs are sold for as low as $35, and NPD group is predicting nearly 40% of US homes will have a streaming media device by the start of 2017. Business Insider estimates 75% of cars globally will have the necessary hardware to connect to the internet by 2020. 

Leveraging functions and features across hardware will still be challenging

But size still matters, when it comes to devices anyway. You can share a browser window on a TV.  You can use your iPad as a drawing tablet for the Mac. Your car can turn the lights on when you get home with simple apps on the phone. There's a lot of cool interoperability that can happen between devices, and it’s up to mobile product owners and developers to know what capabilities and integrations make the most sense for their apps and their customers. 

These decisions can't be made in a vacuum- often they are dependent on disparate partners, teams and technology to make things work together. The strategy for how to enable the right interoperability should be determined together, too. As discrete pieces of hardware continue to be more and more interoperable, successful mobile product owners will begin to realize that every day, their existence and the way they manage and develop their products must become more holistic to be successful.

In the new world of interconnected devices and experiences, product owners should be sure to: 

  • Widen the Net – engage stakeholders in other areas of the business that can help build synergy between a company’s mobile products and the rest of its digital assets.

  • Consider what devices and apps may compliment your primary experience – would information on a smart watch be valuable to your user? How about integrating with a home automation system? The possibilities are endless, but knowledge of what technology is out there is the first step.

  • Build for function, not flash – just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Focus your builds on features those that add value to your apps and your users.

The age of the standalone device is dead, and product owners must adapt. Making it a team effort, keeping up on technology, and being user-centric will all help create a better experience for app owners, developers, and users alike.

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