One of the most exciting parts of my job is seeing how quickly new technology can change our lives. It's been 20 years since the first internet-enabled smartphones hit the market, and now it's impossible to imagine our lives without them. Since then, each year has brought new developments that change the landscape practically overnight, from professional-level cameras to real-time mobile payments.
So what's next for mobile apps? Now that the novelty of older trends like blockchain, AI, chatbots, and wearables has worn off, expect to see companies using these technologies to solve real user problems. Over the next year, we'll also see more of everything-data, productivity features, form factors-as well as new tools to help users stay in control of their digital lives.
Take a look at some of the biggest trends we're watching closely for 2022 and beyond.
Location, Location, Location
The widespread availability of 5G will enable more precise geolocation, allowing companies to use geofencing in creative ways. Special offers can appear when shoppers pass a favorite store, companies can remind employees to check in when they arrive at work, and apps can encourage users to maintain a healthy work/life balance by keeping the work at work.
The marketing possibilities are obvious, but next year, I think we'll see a lot of adoption by businesses to help improve employee productivity and wellbeing. For example, I expect we'll see more businesses geofencing employee training modules and other work activities to prevent employees from doing work tasks offsite. I also think we'll see more companies incentivizing wellness by leveraging wearable-enabled fitness apps to track and reward healthy behavior.
Speaking of wellbeing, Apple's new Focus tool lets users minimize distracting notifications and, well, focus. Apps like Freedom, Serene, and RescueTime have been offering similar tools for years, but this is the first time we've seen a major platform offer a native focus tool. The timing makes sense-as so many events, meetings, and conversations have moved online in the last year, it's not surprising that some people are being overwhelmed with screen time. Apple's new feature marks a welcome shift toward prioritizing the wellbeing and mental health of app users by letting them focus and disconnect at will.
In terms of business apps, Focus also has huge benefits for productivity and the ability to work undistracted, especially in companies with a BYOD (bring your own device) policy. By setting their device to Work mode, for example, employees can focus on their company tasks and access work-related apps like Slack or Workday while their phones automatically hide distracting social media notifications.
Rich push notifications have been around for a few years, but they're still the exception rather than the rule. Over the next year, we'll see more companies taking advantage of the ability to add images, videos, audio, and interactive elements to their messages. They're a great way to engage users and encourage them to take action, and there are definitely still a lot of opportunities for apps to experiment in this space. For example, I predict we'll see companies using rich notifications to streamline certain management tasks, like approving PTO and other scheduling requests, acknowledging or even approving expense reports, and more-all with a tap.
I also think we'll also see more companies using rich notifications to engage their own employees by creating more interactive messages with exciting, contextual, and relevant content-allowing employers to communicate in real-time with its workforce through quick notifications.
Interactive On-Device Widgets
Apple finally released widgets for iOS last year-something Android has offered for a while-but they're still largely static. Next year, expect developers to start leveraging richer, more interactive widgets, enabling users to make micro-interactions with their apps. Right now, most interactions are limited to basic functions, like pausing a song or turning off a smart light. As the technology improves, look for more interesting capabilities and creative uses of on-device widgets. Could you allow employees to clock in for work? See their weekly schedule at a glance? The possibilities are endless.
It's not just for Pokemon Go anymore. Already, the major tech companies are betting on everyday consumer adoption of AR, investing in products like augmented Google Maps, virtual IKEA furniture try-outs, and more. And they're not alone: This year, the global market for virtual reality (VR) and AR is predicted to increase nearly tenfold to $209 billion.
Undoubtedly, the pandemic is also fueling adoption, allowing users and employees to interact with businesses even under the strictest social distancing measures. Many companies are even using AR internally, especially in manufacturing. In fact, 56% of manufacturers used some form of AR or VR technology in the last year, many of whom reported an increase in productivity as a result.
With the pandemic still in full effect, now might be a good time to explore how AR could help your own business tackle any remote-working challenges. Maybe we'll see AR training videos to get employees up to speed on a particular piece of machinery? Or VR product displays to help retail employees visualize how to recreate them in their own stores?
Form Factor Change
While not exactly a new trend, wearable adoption is still growing steadily, so make sure your app is compatible with the major players. Meanwhile, the new foldable phone from Samsung made major waves this year, and with Android already supporting foldables, Apple is probably not far behind. With tons of new foldable devices coming out next year, it's important to make sure your apps are prepared. Follow the lead of foldable-ready apps like Amazon Prime Video, Twitter, Spotify, Facebook, and Microsoft Office and get your app ready, too.
All together, 2022 is looking like a bright year for mobile technology. I can't wait to see what features businesses will implement next.