Oh boy, how things have changed in the past few years. Two years ago, mobile app professionals were still clinched with issues regarding gestures. Interactions were still thumb-focused and they were just beginning to realize the potential of minimalist design.
Fast-forward two years and the challenges and aspirations mobile app professionals have today are utterly, completely different. Artificial intelligence, chat-oriented interfaces, responsive designs, virtual and augmented reality, are all occupying the minds of developers everywhere. This shows just how quickly things move in the mobile app universe. In order to succeed, and build cool apps which many will find useful and functional, one must have the foresight, and prepare for new challenges around the corner.
That is why it is important to identify the biggest trends on time. Below you will find the five biggest, impactful trends for 2017 and, most likely, beyond.
1. Conversational Interfaces
Judging by the amount of both buzz and awe created in the second half of 2016 alone, this year is going to be ALL about conversational interfaces in mobile apps. A recent comScore study says the average user only uses around three apps frequently, and at least one of them is a messaging app. So it is no wonder everyone wants to tap into that trend.
The best way to take advantage of the fact that people enjoy chatting, is to offer the feature in places that were hard to imagine a few years back (for example – the Luka app, where humans can converse with bots on a range of topics, from daily news, to restaurants, to thermonuclear physics).
That is why chatbots and voice-activated communication platforms, powered by artificial intelligence, will probably dominate in the next 365 days, both as standalone apps, and as integrated features.
We have already seen what different virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana or Amazon’s Echo can do. Also we are seeing more breathtaking use cases on chatbots, pretty much every day. As this technology progresses and becomes more advanced and sophisticated, we can expect conversational interfaces, both chat and voice, to become one of 2017’s greatest hits.
2. Personalization in UI Design
We are all different, so why should the apps we use behave the same towards everyone? Some people have poor eyesight. Others might be colorblind, or sensitive to screen brightness.
This personalization of UI design is not a new concept – you have already heard of ‘responsive design’. However, there is a key difference. Responsive design revolves around adapting a layout to a wide range of devices (i.e. the same website adapts to the screen size, so it looks quite different on a 4K TV, an HD monitor or a phone). Personalization in UI design, or age-responsive design, as some call it, revolves around adapting a layout to a person.
This can be achieved, in good measure, through already available metadata. By tapping into information already provided by the user (on the device itself, on the app itself, or on different platforms/apps), apps can determine if they should increase the font size, decrease screen brightness, eliminate flashing images or sound. In 2017, we can expect mobile app UI design to move further away from being device-focused, and move closer to being user-focused, personalized.
3. User Experience Analytics
Mobile apps have been around long enough for everyone to understand their potential, and for everyone to have enough time to understand what they are, how they work and what they can bring to the table. This brings us to two conclusions:
- Nowadays, apps are no longer used by the young and the technology-savvy only – they are being used by anyone and everyone.
- Everyone has gathered enough experience to know how good apps can be, meaning users have become more demanding, and tough to retain. This has a profound effect on user experience – users know they can get the best, so they demand the best.
But this ‘best’ cannot be reserved for a specific target audience – it needs to be ‘best overall’, even if we are talking about a niche app.
The ‘best overall’ can be achieved by drilling down into individual user experiences and drawing conclusions from specific use cases. It is also important to note that people rarely use apps the way they were intended to. Without proper communication, this can result in people using the app wrongly, becoming frustrated, having a poor user experience and consequently leaving a negative review on the app store.
Analyzing user experiences and in-app behavior can be accomplished through qualitative analytics tools, like touch heatmaps or user session recordings. These tools allow developers to pinpoint biggest weak points, eliminate bugs, or design a more intuitive interface. Through qualitative analytics, developers can make sure their apps are being used properly. We are expecting this trend to pick up significantly this year and to have a strong effect on user experience.
4. VR / AR
Besides conversational interfaces, another direction which promises to completely change the way we see and use apps is the fast emergence of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology.
Even though it is not such a new concept, the advancement in technology has allowed AR and VR to really start making an impact in the mobile industry. There are four elements in mobile technology which have made it possible today, and these are: faster processors, better cameras, higher quality displays and faster communication speeds.
AR and VR requires an astonishing amount of processing power, and mobile devices have come far enough to be able to offer just that. 4G speeds are basically globally available now, and 5G which is essential for AR-oriented apps is expected to hit the streets just in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Xiaomi Mi 5, Galaxy S7 Edge and Google Pixel all have VR-ready displays and are already available on the market.
VR and AR have huge potential in tourism (for example – ‘visiting’ a location before actually visiting the physical location), construction (‘walk’ around your new house before deciding to renovate), shopping (try out your new dress before buying via mobile), education (medicine students will be able to learn anatomy in ways unimaginable ten years ago), communication (virtual boardroom meeting, anyone?), entertainment (why go to the movies, when you can go into movies?), and pretty much any other industry.
The only thing that is limiting AR an VR is our imagination and with the proper infrastructure in place, it is safe to expect a greater focus on AR and VR tech for mobile.
One trend that is slowly (but surely) picking up is offering users different alternatives to moving through the app. There are currently three navigation issues plaguing apps: Linear navigation, one-handed navigation (some apps are not usable with one hand on a big smartphone, because users cannot reach far corners of the screen with their thumb), and the hamburger menu.
Linear navigation means all users can use and navigate through the app the same way – an approach to design some UI / UX folks see as ‘herding cattle’. Uber is a good example. There, all users: 1) set a pickup location, 2) set the destination, 3) press ‘Request’, 4) rate the driver. What we are expecting to see is new and creative navigation solutions, which will allow users to move through the app more freely (Amazon Shopping is a good example, where users can browse various categories and subcategories without needing to go down a certain path to get to them)
Issues with one-handed navigation is also something we are expecting to be slowly phased out. Nowadays, smartphones are mostly quite large, with screens so big many people cannot reach their corners by using just one hand. Implementing smarter navigation solutions, which will keep in mind how people use the smartphone, will also be a huge trend.
On top of it all, the hamburger menu will continue to be despised. Indeed, it is considered by many as the main culprit for poor user engagement, and low discoverability.
All of this means we will be hearing about parallax scrolling (like the one Summly, Yelp, or Google Maps already have), non-linear navigation and the final demise of the hamburger menu a lot more this year. New navigation solutions have the potential to completely reshape user experience. A non-linear approach can result in a more personalized experience, as each user will approach the app in their own, unique way. Eliminating the hamburger menu can improve discoverability, meaning many useful app features will remain hidden no more. Finally, thumb-friendly navigation will make life easier for many users, especially those with large screens riding the bus to work each morning.
It is about time. Someone is getting a Xiaomi Mi Mix soon enough!
To say that ‘constant is the only change’ in the mobile UX universe would be an understatement. Mobile devices are becoming better, faster and more potent. Apps are following suit and are becoming more robust, clear-cut and personalized.
We can expect the trends of custom-fit, personalized apps, powered by cutting-edge technology like chatbots, VR and AI to continue. We can also expect users to become more demanding and harder to retain.
We never said it would be an easy year, but it most definitely will be a dynamic one.
(Lead image: geralt – Creative Commons)