Oleksiy Mark - Fotolia
Since the onset of public cloud computing, mobile devices have been a key target for application development. And while dev teams have strived to support the mobile workforce for years now, the ways in which they do so will evolve significantly in 2018.
The goal of mobile app development has traditionally been to accommodate the limited screen size of a smartphone and the difference in the kind of information users request on the road versus at their desk. Social media transformed the smartphone into a device that receives events -- a conduit to make users aware of things that happen at a distance. In this model, users react more than they interact. And this "reactive" vision will drive the next wave of mobile app development trends.
The first trend linked to the idea of the "reactive user" is contextual filters. A user who adjusts a critical system doesn't want to be interrupted to be told that a fellow worker is nearby -- unless he or she is waiting for help. This is what makes trends like the internet of things (IoT) complicated; developers can't just push sensor data at people. They have to determine the exact information their users need and when they need it, or sacrifice productivity.
This requires developers to model the user as an explicit system -- almost like an autonomous element. The goal of this is to understand what the user currently does, at least in terms of receptivity to information. Today, few applications even attempt to model the user in this way, and in fact, it doesn't make sense to do so at an application level. Instead, mobile users in 2018 will take the first critical steps toward becoming middleware; think of a virtual agent in a container that represents each user.
This user-as-middleware framework will drive one of the other key mobile app development trends this year: smarter interfaces via AI and augmented reality (AR).
AI and AR
Unless you apply some sort of filter, information will always vie for users' attention when they're busy. With AI, a software agent can classify outside events and then either defer them or pass them along to users, according to policies.
Traditionally, the challenge with this kind of filtering is that it's difficult to tell what a given event represents and what its current sensitivity or context is to the user. AI helps address both these challenges because it "learns" what users need versus what they find distracting. For example, a user that is stationary at a switchbox, asking for a wiring diagram, probably isn't interested in any information except that related to the switchbox.
AR especially lends itself to tasks related to diagrams or layouts. If our hypothetical worker in the example above has a diagram of the switchbox that's superimposed on the actual box via AR, it would be easy to pick out the right wires and switches. The applications of AR are almost endless, provided that you can control the balance and synchronization between the virtual and real worlds.
The introduction of AI and AR to mobile users depends on the worker-as-middleware model and requires detailed knowledge of what the user does. Developers can derive some of that information from mobile devices in the form of worker requests for information and worker location and motion, as well from any nearby IoT sensors. Then, they need to digest and analyze all of this information outside the mobile device to frame a detailed picture of the area around the worker.
Mobile security set to evolve
Mission- and role-based security are two more mobile app development trends to watch in 2018. For optimal productivity apps, security has to change radically from the account and application model of today. When users are dispatched to do a job, they should inherit the information rights they require. We've taken a partial step in this direction with roles, which enable IT teams to assign rights to groups of workers and to place workers in particular roles based on their job requirements. Now, it's time to take the next step.
Mission-based security impacts how IT assigns a worker a role. With this approach, an assignment, or "mission," provides the link between worker and role, which, in turn, provides the link between the worker and information/application access. The assignment of a worker to a role can be temporary, based on mission requirements, and that enhances traditional role-based security.
Overall, mobile development practices have become increasingly pedestrian, focused on form and not substance. In 2018, however, the mobile app development trends mentioned above will change this.