Driven largely by the rise of mobile computing, web development has evolved dramatically over the last 5 years. Just think: Five short years ago, we developed web applications for use on a PC. Now, we develop applications for multiple devices.
While I could list many more ways web development has changed in the last few years, I’d like to instead focus on the future. How is web application development changing? What big trends will shape web development over the next 5 years?
I’ve compiled a list of trends that I believe will shape web application development in the coming years, which includes both my own predictions and predictions from others. While I don’t consider this a comprehensive list, I do believe that each of these trends will affect web development in the coming years.
One more thing: As this is a business-focused blog, the trends below are geared primarily at business application development…though most of them apply to development in general. Of course, if you think I forgot any major trends, please feel free to add them in the comments.
1. Responsive/Adaptive design will become the norm
While we must now develop web applications for use on multiple devices, it’s only getting worse: In the next few years, device options may expand to smart glasses, smart watches, televisions, and more…which makes responsive and adaptive design an absolute necessity.
“Looking forward to the next 5 years, we’re going to see more mobile traffic and a wider array of screen sizes and resolutions,” says Zane Schwarzlose, Community Relations Director at Fahrenheit Marketing. “These factors will make responsive web design key to properly displaying the same information across a variety of web displays.”
Now, In case you’re unfamiliar with the terms, let me quickly explain the difference between responsive and adaptive design.
- Responsive design creates web sites/apps that will fluidly change and respond to fit any screen size.
- Adaptive design creates web sites/apps with multiple presentation layers designed for different devices. A single application might have three separate presentation layers: One for a PC, one for a tablet, and another for a smartphone. If you’d like to see a demo, visit this application on any device, and notice how it looks different on each. That’s an example of adaptive design.
2. Native apps will decline
In the coming years, I believe we’ll see a shake-up in the mobile platform landscape. New platforms will emerge, while popular options will decline. The uncertainty in the mobile platform landscape, combined with the growing capabilities of the web will lead to a decline in native mobile apps. Particularly in the business world, developers will increasingly avoid the risks of native apps and embrace the flexibility of mobile web apps.
“Apps are on the decline I believe, and more companies will be developing enhanced website features as opposed to apps,” says Glenn Romanelli, President of Lighthaus Design, Inc. “We’re finding that many of our clients who are, at first, excited about developing a mobile app change their mind once they have more information on their limitations. Today, it’s much more cost effective to develop a website application that has the same functionality as an app, but can be developed to work, not only on desktops, but tablets and mobile devices as well.”
3. Web sites/apps will offer personalized user experiences
We’re seeing a shift towards personalized user experiences, and I believe that will only increase. This happens in a couple of ways: In some cases, the web application/site itself remembers the user’s preferences and actions, and delivers options tailored to that user. In other cases, the application simply lets the user customize the design and layout, and saves those customizations for future visits.
“Personalized web design is the wave of the future,” says Sarah Mogin, VP of Marketing for Ajax Union. “If a user visits your site, the site should reflect whether they’ve been there before and what they’ve done there, whether the previous visit was on the same device or a different one. If the site can reflect any social signals or the user’s location, this can only help.”
4. Application portability will become essential
In the past, developers built applications for a single platform and database. While that practice is quickly becoming outdated, it’s still alive and well in the business world. Even today, businesses still develop applications that only work on a single database and platform.
That being said, businesses are slowly recognizing the need for applications that seamlessly port to any database or platform. As cloud-based hosting becomes more prevalent and more businesses utilize a variety of databases, portable applications will become essential in the business world.
5. Data will come from everywhere
As more and more objects connect to the internet, our web applications will pull data from areas you’d never expect. Future web applications may not only pull data from your database, but also your office building, your fleet of delivery trucks, and more.
“Sensors, monitors and ambient inputs will allow us to gauge and control what’s happening around us and adjust accordingly,” says Scott Stadum, Sr. Digital Metrics Analyst at NPR. “Small sensors will check soil conditions, your refrigerator will audit inventory and the black box in your car can keep tabs on driver behavior along with vehicle performance. Each technology will be connected to the web, upload to a database and need an interface for users to connect to. We’ll monitor in real-time, mine data for trends and forecasting and make personal, business and civic oriented decisions that will save dollars, lives and headaches as we optimize just about anything that’s optimizable.”
6. Collaboration will be commonplace
As we see from the popularity of social networking, the web provides the perfect collaboration platform. That being said, collaboration is largely ignored in the world of enterprise applications. I see that changing, as collaboration within business applications will soon become commonplace.
“In terms of real-time collaboration tech has made some progress over the years with tools like Github, Google Docs, Salesforce, etc.” explains Stadum. “In the near future we’re going to see a change in how we can leverage all platforms and tools using collaborative technology like the Google Realtime API, we won’t be limited to check-ins and word processing but app experiences regardless of type or platform. There’s real opportunity for working with teams, crowdsourcing, outsourcing, etc in a very real-time, very collaborative nature.”
7. Development platforms will gain popularity in the business
Companies around the globe face a growing problem: Frustrated with the IT department, end users are opting for unauthorized cloud-based services behind IT’s back. This causes serious security issues, as IT can no longer control the company’s data. This trend forces many IT departments to re-think their application delivery model, with many opting for company-wide development platforms.
“IT groups need to be aware that their business users are exporting enterprise data to third-party self-service cloud development platforms, and it is IT’s fault,” says Tyler Wassell, Software Development Manager at mrc. “If IT were able to meet the application demands of its business in a timely manner, users would not look to third party solutions. To combat this problem, more IT departments will deploy self-service development platforms in-house. Development platforms deployed in-house allow users to continue their own basic development and report-writing while allowing IT to maintain security over data and user access. It’s a win-win for IT and the business.”
Web development has come a long way in just 5 short years, and I believe we’re primed for even more change in the coming years. If your company wants to stay at the cutting edge of development, the trends listed above give you a good place to start.