Mobile app development trends to know

16 min read
January 14, 2021

If you’re into mobile app development, there are always new technologies pushing for your attention.

All of these offer opportunities to developers hoping to stand out from the crowd. If you’re looking for inspiration, and want to build an app to impress your users, here are the mobile app development trends to know.

We’ll show you some of the features that are driving apps forward, then take a look at areas of technology that are expanding and seeing the most growth.

Factoring both of these in when deciding where to focus your resources will help keep you on the cutting edge of mobile development.

What Should Your App Be Like

Making the right technical choices can mean all the difference between success and failure for an app. Taking advantage of all the new features available will let you deliver apps well placed to attract and retain users.

Keeping pace with every new development is a constant challenge, so here’s a round-up of what you need to be aware of.

1. Cross-Platform

Deciding which devices to target is a key decision when brainstorming a new app project. One solution is to side-step the issue and use technology that lets you deploy to multiple platforms

With cross-platform apps, you work on a single code base and then use it to build different versions of your product, which you can send to the various online stores.

The advantage is that hiring fewer developers saves you time and money. They don’t have to repeat work, as they are all working on the same code. 

Working on one code base is convenient, and affords you a measure of agility when it comes to deployment. It enables you to easily adapt to new platforms, potentially including those that launch after you begin your project.

On the other hand, cross-platform tools may not work as smoothly with native phone features. Native app-developers will find it easier to take advantage of these and will often be the first to get access to them via native APIs.

Cross-Platform apps

They may also find deploying to the store goes more smoothly than with cross-platform solutions, which are vulnerable to incompatibilities when new versions of the phone OS are released. The apps sometimes have a generic feel as they are not tailored to the features of specific platforms.

There are several technologies you can use for cross-platform development. React native is top of the pile at the moment and is great for Javascript developers. Others include Flutter, Xamarin and Unity.

Whichever technology you pick, be sure to research its pros and cons thoroughly before making a decision. Different cross-platform technologies may be appropriate for different types of apps, and of course, your developer’s skillset needs to be factored in.

2. Cloud-Based

Cloud-based applications allow you to deliver to your customers wherever they are, and they aren’t tied to a specific device. Services like Dropbox use the cloud for storage and have separate apps for each device. These allow users to access the same data, through a broadly similar UI.

Cloud-based apps have several advantages. They are readily scalable. With cloud hosting, you can expand to handle more requests easily, and don’t have to worry as much about costs when your app is at the end of its life. You don’t have to worry about server maintenance either.


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They also give you control of your host hardware, which saves you from dealing with constant version updates. Device apps have to be maintained, with bug fixes accompanying every OS upgrade.

With cloud apps, you can use a thin client app for each device, which requires minimal maintenance.

You can also take advantage of the cloud to store larger amounts of data, as well as carry out processing tasks that mobile devices aren’t able to do quickly.

There are security benefits to keeping all your data in one place, as this makes it easier to stay compliant with data storage requirements across different legislatures.

Anyone with a browser can access cloud-based applications, making them easy to deploy to teams working in a business or enterprise environment.

3. Instant

Instant apps allow you to deliver your app to users without having to download and install them. This allows you to present a limited preview, via the Google Play store, for example.

If users are on the train, or in a restricted bandwidth environment, they may be reluctant to download a large application, because of the costs and waiting time. Instant-apps let you bypass these problems. Users you would have lost click the ‘try’ button instead.

You can include prompts to download the full version in the limited version of your app. This is a good way to sell your application to users who are sitting on the fence.

Deliver a good demo experience and they’ll upgrade later.

Instant apps are especially beneficial for data heavy-apps with large download sizes that are able to show-off their core features with a much smaller download. They can increase your session rate, seeing users spend more time engaging with your services.

Ensuring new apps deliver an instant version, and adapting older apps to use the technology are both worth looking into if you want to increase engagement and drive sales.

4. Low-code

Low code apps allow you to create tools and applications without the need for programmers. You can build applications through simple interfaces with little code required.

They are making headlines at the moment, and some think they could revolutionize the way we create applications. Others think this is a long-promised pipe-dream that will never come to fruition. 

The truth is likely somewhere between these extremes.

Either way, AI and predictive tools are able to do more and more, and the apps you can produce on low code platforms are getting more sophisticated. 

Low-code apps are great news for those who have ideas but don’t have the money or inclination to hire a developer. Many creative people don’t enjoy coding, so low-code apps have the potential to open development to a whole new set of creators.

Even for established developers, low-code apps are fast to develop, secure, and easily deployed to multiple platforms.

Some predict this sector will grow to take over 65% of app development by 2024 and companies like Google are investing heavily in the technology, snapping up smaller players.

These applications could greatly affect the role developers play in creating applications, so everyone needs to watch the sector closely if they want to keep up.

Trendy Characteristics of Mobile Apps

Analyzing trends and requirements of modern apps is important, regardless of which type of app you are developing. Among all trends, we would like to highlight these two.

1. Secure

Many developers fail to think about security until it’s too late, as attested by numerous high profile breaches regularly hitting the news.

Fortunately, awareness is increasing and more developers are prioritizing security, not least because platform holders are pushing them to do so, with ever more stringent app submission requirements.

Putting security at the center of your app is especially important in areas like finance, law, or healthcare.

Organizations in these lines of work want to know their business data is safe and secure and reassuring them on those grounds is beneficial for everyone, presenting an opportunity for developers.

Secure mobile apps

Increasingly, regular consumers have also been paying attention, with users and clients showing a preference for apps that take security seriously.

Making an app perfectly secure is arguably impossible, but there’s plenty you can do to make your users safer. Encryption, a sensible password strategy, and good old fashioned common sense are all useful to have. 

Hiring developers with specialist knowledge in the area is also a good idea and will help you develop reliable, robust applications.

2. On-demand

On-demand apps allow you to order products and services at the touch of a button. Services like Uber and Lyft are widely known, and there are many new services delivering food and everyday goods.

However, the usefulness of on-demand apps extends to more than just the service industry. The entertainment, healthcare, and real estate sectors all benefit from on-demand apps. Users can browse for services wherever they are, and pick deals that suit them without having to visit a real store.

Developers can collect information about consumers, and use it to help direct them to the most relevant deals. That’s a win-win for everybody. There are also cost benefits to ordering a product or service directly from the provider.

The COVID crisis has made these apps especially critical, and for businesses affected by the drop in foot-traffic, delivering their services via an app can be the difference between staying in business or going bust.

Existing brick and mortar businesses are falling over themselves to get a foothold in this area.

If you are looking for extra clients, this is a great type of app to pitch to businesses, many of whom will be busy, and happy to hire someone to handle development for them.

Technologies Impacting Mobile App Development Trends 

Now that we’ve looked at what makes a good app, let’s look at what’s hot in 2020. There are several types of apps that are gaining in popularity.

Getting in early on any of these markets has huge potential, so if you want to make waves with new ideas, and attract savvy investors and clients, these are the areas to focus on.

1. Wearables

Mobile apps are breaking out of your pocket. Wearables are gaining traction, with an estimated 830 million users in 2020 sporting a connected device of some kind. They come in a wider variety of form factors than phones, and this variety makes them suitable for a range of applications.

Healthcare is an obvious use for wearables, tracking users’ movements and calorie counts. They can also help athletes and bodybuilders track performance. Wearable gaming is also booming. People enjoy games they can carry around with them and dip into at any time. 

Other uses include wearable speakers and mics, smart rings for payments and notifications, and even contact lenses that can detect your glucose levels or monitor your emotions using chemical signals in your tears.

Energy consumption concerns and limited screen sizes are major considerations when developing wearables, and UI should be kept simple, too. Bluetooth is commonly used for connectivity as it is efficient and secure.

There is a vast amount of potential in this ever-growing area and no-doubt some great ideas yet to be realized.

2. IoT

Everyday household devices are increasingly likely to be connected to the internet. That gives developers opportunities to interact with and control those devices, and the potential applications are endless. Control lights from your phone.

Run a bath, or turn the oven down without having to leave the sofa. It’s a sci-fi lover’s dream come true.

Another use for IoT devices is metrics.

You can track when things are used, which enables you to implement efficiency improvements. AI offers you the possibility to predict what users will want to do in advance, and offer to do it for them.

IoT mobile apps

There are also medical applications. Patients can be reminded to take their medicine. Sleep patterns can be tracked. Doctors or carers can be alerted if common home devices aren’t used when expected. 

The IoT is also becoming more important in industry, with devices reporting their status to networks that monitor supply chains.

Farmers, for example, are able to adjust tractor tire pressures to different surfaces. Developers need to keep a broad range of potential use cases in mind. 

With billions of connected devices in circulation and many more on the way, developers have their work cut out to use them to their full potential.

3. AR/VR

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality applications are great fun and as a relatively new area, it is waiting for developers to break new ground.

The staggering success of Pokemon Go has many companies trying to get in on the action and capture the public imagination.

As well as games, AR has potential use in cosmetic applications, for example helping to design tattoos or experiment with makeup. It can also be used to provide information on products, by showing informational displays when pointing a camera at them.

VR is another emerging industry that offers new and exciting opportunities for developers.

Using a phone as a cheap alternative to the more expensive VR headsets promises unique experiences to users.

They will be able to immerse themselves in virtual worlds, enjoy different kinds of entertainment, or even participate in training or therapy.

VR is an area that will rapidly improve as the technology becomes more refined, so this field is especially ripe for innovation.

AR and VR are hot areas, likely to engage users, clients, and developers alike. Let your imagination run wild and see what kind of worlds you can build.

4. AI and Chatbots

Computers can manage a reasonable facsimile of a conversation, but we’re not out of the uncanny valley yet. AI is beginning to handle ever more complex interactions and take over parts of the sales and support processes that would previously have required a human.

AI has many potential uses, such as driving website sales by making smart decisions, helping patients take their medicine at the right time, and to automate repetitive tasks.

Chatbots will allow you to take the strain from your beleaguered support department and help users with common problems. They can also funnel them to support articles, or gather information before a customer issue gets escalated to a human responder.

AI enables you to tailor the chatbot behavior to the user. By keeping track of user metrics and learning what different people respond to, an AI-driven chatbot can suggest different actions, or change the timing of its interactions.

Using AI helps you deliver a more personal experience to a large number of users without relying on an army of dedicated staff. Ironically, it can give your apps a more human touch.

5. Mcommerce

E-commerce is already a $4 trillion dollar industry. It is only going to get bigger, and the mobile sector is playing a large role in its growth.

People are placing more trust in their devices as payment methods, and the development of eCommerce into mCommerce is likely to accelerate over the next few years.

Integrating mobile payment methods into your apps is a clear winner when it comes to maximizing revenue.

Knowing how to deploy eCommerce on mobile is essential for more and more types of apps.

Players like Apple Pay and Google Wallet are likely to be supplemented with new offerings from companies like Samsung. Blockchain is being used more to bring added security to payments.

There’s plenty to think about for developers with mCommerce. Security is an obvious priority, while the need to comply with differing standards and regulations is also a big factor when users pay on the go.

This is a highly competitive area, but get it right, and the rewards are there for the taking.

6. Beacon technology

Beacon technology uses miniature transmitters to send messages to nearby users. Devices detect them via Bluetooth and respond by sending the user an alert.

One of the key uses for beacon technology is proximity marketing, which will allow businesses to send customers notifications when they’re near a product of interest, perhaps offering them a discount or a special offer. 

Perhaps a user whose search history suggests a preference for ice cream would get an alert offering them a 5% discount, as they approach the freezer section of the local supermarket.

It also enables you to keep an eye on where users are, and how much time they spend in particular locations. As well as retail, that feature has potential uses in healthcare, hospitality, and other industries. Elderly or impaired patients can be monitored, and guests at events can be tracked. 

You can check how many people see the key areas of a display, and see how customers move from place to place. Geographical data may be used to see when ad campaigns translate into users visiting specific stores, or locations within that store.

This kind of data allows you to modify the spaces customers use and craft their experiences accordingly.

7. Foldables

Foldable technology is making a comeback. Unlike the flip-phones of yesteryear, which closed when not in use, modern foldables run in both open and closed modes. The available screen size expands when opened. 

The key takeaway for developers is they need to account for devices that can have two, radically different screen sizes or formats to consider.

Mobile apps routinely scale to different-sized phones but having to make this transition on the fly on a single device presents a whole different set of challenges.

Taking advantage of the extra space creatively will require work, but the opportunities are obvious. Chat and makeup apps could have separate areas for the UI and video display, for example. 

Unfolded devices aren’t just bigger, they may have multiple screens or different screen ratios. Using multiple windows opens up new possibilities, so developers should think carefully about how to handle the user interface on these devices.

Foldables don’t represent a huge section of the market currently, but 50 million unit sales are forecast over the next few years.

Clearly this is a sector worth paying attention to.

8. 5G

Next-generation 5G networks are all the rage and expected to make up 15% of the global mobile industry by 2025.

With traffic flowing ten times faster than on 4G networks, developers have a lot of opportunities to build new user experiences.

The higher bandwidths and speeds mean there is more room for the delivery of rich communications. Expect to see the increased use of video, at higher resolutions.

All this extra content translates to higher production costs, which developers will need to factor into their plans.

Lower latency means apps respond more quickly, which enables communication apps to be snappier and gaming apps have more latitude in their design.

5G also allows a greater connection density, with devices making more use of cloud services.

These richer applications will allow developers to keep users engaged for longer and increase revenues.

Competition is bound to be fierce, so taking advantage of everything 5G can offer will help apps stand out from the crowd.


There is so much happening in the mobile space right now. Developers are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing new technology. The areas we’ve talked about today all have huge potential and there’s no doubt that there are many amazing possibilities yet to be realized.

Hopefully reading this list has given you a few ideas, or helped you refine your existing plans. Don’t forget that the only constant in the development world is change. It won’t be long before something new comes along to surprise us all.

Written by

Marko Strizic

Co-founder and CEO

Marko started DECODE with co-founders Peter and Mario, and a decade later, leads the company as CEO. His role is now almost entirely centred around business strategy, though his extensive background in software engineering makes sure he sees the future of the company from every angle. A graduate of the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, he’s fascinated by the architecture of mobile apps and reactive programming, and a strong believer in life-long learning. Always ready for action. Or an impromptu skiing trip.

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