As we rush at an ever-increasing pace towards a mobile-first and mobile-only world, users are putting new pressures on companies to deliver unparalleled customer experiences – or else they walk. And as the demand for quality continues to grow, techniques and trends are becoming dated faster and faster.
In 2017, one of the mobile experiences on the chopping block is everyone’s old friend, responsive design.
Why did we love responsive design in the first place?
Responsive Web Design (RWD) has been around for a relatively long time now. And, until very recently, it has been the be-all and end-all of web design for obvious reasons:
Responsive design quickly and cost-effectively provides a fairly robust experience across all devices
It allows companies to manage multiple front-ends from a single backend, displaying all their content across all devices without any hitches or additional work
It lends itself to templating, as we’ve seen in the enormous success of RWD templates on CMSs like WordPress
And since it started back in 2001, it has kept up and continued to work relatively effectively.
However, it’s increasingly evident that the structural limitations of responsive design mean that its days may be numbered.
Why responsive design isn’t enough
New demands have pressured responsive design in a way that it has yet been able to respond to. Here are some of the pressures it faces.
Personalization – Responsive design serves the same content to everyone
The biggest problem with responsive design springs from its biggest strength – it serves everyone the same content (for the most part). If your goal is to provide the same shopping experience on a phone and a laptop, this is great.
But the problem is that many sites can actually split user needs by device. Banks, for example, probably have different user groups based on device. Primary tasks for mobile users include checking their balance and transferring money, while laptop users want information about investment and savings plans.
With other mobile solutions like apps and mobile websites, you can customize your content and site design based on what people are probably going to want to do on the site. With responsive design as it currently stands, it’s possible but requires investment.
Customization – Responsive design won’t optimize for mobile speeds
With the content is always the same, your site weight is static, regardless of what network your user is on. There’s no ‘site-lite’ option for responsive websites. What this means is that if your users are browsing on mobile networks that are historically significantly slower (although this gap is closing) then they’re going to have to load oodles of stuff – images, fonts, rich interactions, for example – effectively slowing down the user experience. And with speed an increasingly important ranking factor for Google AND important for your bottom line, that extra wait time can cost you some serious money.
Differentitation – Responsive design can’t compete with the experience offered by apps
This is really what the problem comes down to. The prominence of apps in the mobile world has reached a point where other online solutions like responsive design simply don’t compare. And as app development costs continue to drop, they are increasingly the first choice for mobile experience. The ability to work offline, use push notifications, leverage in-app advertising, and provide a better, more stable mobile experience all means that mobile apps offer a tantalizing option compared to mobile responsive sites.
How to save your responsive site
Fortunately, it’s not all bad. For starters, despite the problems above, responsive design (in conjunction with a robust CMS) remains a quick and effective way to get your website online and in front of users who you need to be in front of. A bad responsive mobile site is better than no mobile site.
Second, for some sites, the problems mentioned above, like displaying the same content or optimizing for mobile speeds, isn’t so important. For example, if you’re a clothing ecommerce website, you need to load high res pictures of your products regardless. While you want to optimize as quick as you can, it’s not like cutting out images is really an option for you.
Finally, apps. Yes, apps are an aggressive usurper of the RWD reign. But apps actually suffer a similar problem to RWD – they generally present the same content to everyone. As responsive design begins to leverage metadata information more, it can get to a place in 2017 where it’s showing a specific design and specific content to a specific audience. For example, if kids are using a site, it’ll be designed in bright, fun colours. Responsive design is uniquely positioned to take advantage of that sort of development – and it just might prove its saving grace.
Responsive design is like an incumbent leader – yes, there are some scrappy upstarts nipping at its heels, and yes there are naysayers out there predicting its timely demise. But we think that the future of responsive design isn’t so doom-and-gloom.
While RWD might lose some market share, there will always be an audience that wants a site that displays across all devices quickly and cost-effectively, and there will always be those who are looking to push the envelope on how personal you can get.
Responsive design might change, but we think it’s got another year of leadership in it.
We are always hoping to get longevity from our digital investments – and this is certainly true when it comes to mobile. Having invested tens of thousands of dollars in a new app, or geolocation, or responsive design – we don’t want to turn around to find that these features have quickly become outdated, and you are left with a lost investment.
To help you make an informed decision about where you can spend your mobile budget, we have collected the top 5 mobile trends we think will be valuable to watch for in 2017.
1. Advertising will shift to mobile apps
In 2017 we expect to see a LOT more mobile apps on offer, from all corners of the business world, especially from small businesses.
And in line with the projected growth in downloads (268 million!), we’re likely to see the amount of advertising on apps soar. What we see today is that most advertising on apps is by companies and products which are directly related to the app.
Image source: eBay
For example, if you download a game, you’re going to see a lot of ads for other games.
But with advances in programmatic advertising and more robust ad buying networks, in 2017 there’s going to be significant differentiation of in-app advertising — which will lead to more marketing opportunities for enterprising companies.
After all, who’s to say the same people shopping for a new CMS don’t also love playing Clash of Clans?
2. Hidden navigation will be phased out
Image source: TechCrunch
This particularly optimistic design prediction comes from James Archer, the VP of sales and marketing at Crowd Favorite.
While we don’t quite share his outright optimism that the hamburger menu will cave (after all, it’s been around this long) we do think we will see a shift away from hidden navigations in the most prominent mobile sites and responsive solutions.
3. App consolidation
For the past year, we’ve seen apps splinter into single function apps, focusing on doing one thing, really well. And the benefits are clear:
You can provide excellent micro-interactions
Marketing and niche targeting in a competitive apps world is easier
You’re really good at just one thing
Providing a competitive, robust app experience is easier (and easier on the wallet)
However, as we’ve mentioned, we’ve seen apps going the other way in places like China.
So what does 2017 hold?
We think that there’s going to be a move away from single-function apps and towards cross-app integration. For example, people using Uber might want to also check their flight details. Or people using Airbnb might also want to book an Uber.
Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.
Whether this consolidation happens at a design level within apps as an expansion of service offerings, or as at a top down company consolidation (e.g. merger) remains to be seen.
But we think that there’s going to be less enthusiasm for apps that do just one thing.
Messaging apps will become a lot more robust
Image source: Apple
Like we just said, apps are going to consolidate – fewer apps, but each app does more. And nowhere is this going to be more prevalent than in messaging apps.
Again looking at the WeChat model- we think that messaging apps are best poised to bring multiple services together. They provide the most robust platform for a range of integrations, including reservations, banking apps (allowing both payments and money management), travel apps, and more.
We’ve seen this trend on iOS devices with the iMessage App Store, but its potential has not yet been fully reached yet. Expect to see much more in-message functionality becoming a staple of mobile in the coming year.
Specifically, we believe age-responsive design will become the new norm for the major industries. The idea of age-responsive design is pretty simple — websites appear differently depending on the age of the user. As an easy example, a website might display a larger font for user it knows are older (e.g. 65+) or it might opt for a bright and fun colour scheme for identified younger users.
With a proliferation of big data, our ability to use that for something useful, and the enormous amount of metadata we now implement and gather, we’re increasingly able to tell who is on a device at a given time.
Age-responsive design is essentially the design equivalent to hyper-accurate programmatic advertising. If you can offer age-appropriate products, it stands to reason you can provide an age-appropriate experience.
All in all, we’re excited for 2017. Better apps, more advertising opportunities, and the beginnings of developing multiple tools that will automatically deploy for the right users, it’s shaping up to be a great year for digital.
With 2016 now behind us, it’s a new year with a fresh budget to spend.
Here are 5 areas where we think you should be focusing your digital investment for the coming year.
1. Mobile apps – get one
Until recently, companion apps have been the exclusive purview of big chains. Irrespective of the perceived user benefits, smaller companies have seen them as just too much investment:
They don’t have the initial capital to build them
They don’t want to put up the money to maintain them
They don’t have the additional marketing budget needed to effectively drive downloads, making earlier investment less valuable.
Subway, Staples, Home Depot, banks – these are the types of enterprises who were getting apps for their stores – not Dave’s Groceries down the road.
But in 2017, we think this is going to change.
For starters, this trend is already underway – Small Business Trends reported that 50% of small businesses will get an app or be working towards that objective by 2017.
Second, the standard for user experience constantly increases. Pressure on all companies is higher than ever and will only be turned up in 2017. One way to stay competitive on mobile devices is with mobile app development.
Finally, mobile is increasingly the device of choice for people. Whether it’s the superfast processors in the latest smartphone or using a keyboard with your iPad Pro, the traditional computer (let alone the desktop) is becoming less important for work and play.
If you don’t have a mobile app yet, we think it is a worthwhile time to start thinking about one.
2. Start delving into location-based communication
Beacons and GPS, geo-fencing, and NFC are all examples of ways companies can use physical location to link the user to a digital experience. While these innovations have been on the books since around 2014 (especially for retail stores), the cost continues to drop, and they get easier to implement.
Currently, location-based signals are one of the best ways to provide a cross-channel experience, taking users from your brick-and-mortar locations to your online properties and back offline again.
For example, you might use geofencing technology to identify customers in your physical stores, and then be able to retarget them with email broadcasts or push notifications with new offers or messages, seamlessly blending your different marketing channels and identifying your highest value targets.
3. Optimise for AI
For the past year, there have been countless conversations about the role AI will play in our lives in the next 5-10 years. And in 2017, some brands are already rolling out ambitious AI projects. But for most companies, what we can expect is greater chatbot integration across a broad range of industries. Basically, people have become accustomed to using Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant as an interface to engage with products and services online.
Now, it’s up to companies to meet that expectation.
To do that, there’s going to have to be a twofold investment. First, in building out back-end systems to literally talk to Siri and her friends, making your service easier for your customers to use automatically.
Second, there will have to be increased investment in content that can be optimized to pull an answer when users ask a question into Google. For example, a robust FAQ about your industry with common questions and answers, all tagged as structured data, will help users find what they want faster than ever.
2016 saw extremely high profile hacking incidents – including for both political camps during the US election, as well as Yahoo’s massive data breach. Collectively, these events have raised consumer awareness of IT risk to new heights. We’ve reached a point now where security is a zero-sum game for online producers.
Even one hacking incident could have significant repercussions on a business, to both its economics and reputation. The new normal will have companies balancing the security of their digital properties with an effective user experience.
5. Augmented and virtual reality
Finally, augmented and virtual reality. So far, we’ve focused on things that are actionable tomorrow – most companies can turn around and start building an app or conducting a security audit right away, should they want to.
Augmented reality and VR are a bit different. Yes, the hardware appears to be mainstream enough now with multiple providers on the market. And yes, the lesson learned from Pokemon Go was that augmented reality is a whole new platform for brands to reach consumers with. We wanted to mention it because, frankly, everyone else is predicting that 2017 is the year of mass deployment for an industry that is projected to be worth $120 billion in 2020.
But there are a few things to consider before you invest a portion of your budget into VR headsets.
First, most of the early applications focus on gaming. Yes, there are some token efforts outside of gaming and digital optimists are all screeching about the various other applications, but for now the focus remains on gaming.
As for augmented reality, yes it is a new channel to reach customers. But Pokemon Go is perhaps an inaccurate predictor of future success. After all, Pokemon Go had the distinct advantage of being first to market. Plus, it was a game.
So for 2017, we think that VR and AR will see big strides. But unless you’re a gaming company, you can probably hold off investing in 2017, and instead focus on honing existing channels of communication. It will also give you time to truly think about how your business can properly leverage AR/VR in a year or two, when the technology is more commonplace and can demonstrate true value, as opposed to simply appearing as a gimmick for early adopters.
2017 is looking to be a great year for companies to refine their digital products and services, helping consumers by forging stronger cross-channel experiences, improving mobile experiences, and interacting with customers with AI in a simple, customized way.
We’re pretty excited about it.
Do you think we missed something that should be on the radar for 2017? Let us know in the comments!
In this article, we’re taking a look at the various trends in mobile that we saw come into their own throughout 2016.
1. Voice-driven search
Siri, Cortana, and Google Voice search have all become a bigger part of our lives over the past year. Plus, other companies like Amazon Echo’s Alexa are showing the world that it’s not just the big search companies who can get in on the action. Voice activation has become a leader in how we choose to engage with our technology.
The shift over the past year has been away from finding the right source of information and towards the right information.
For example, in the past you might have typed into your search “best pho Toronto”, gone to a BlogTO article, read about what the top 10 best pho places were, and picked the one that was close enough and high enough up the list to satisfy your demand for good pho and your desire to avoid schlepping.
Today, that same search would start with “OK Google! Where’s the best Pho?”
To which Google would reply…
“… the best pho place nearest you and open now is blah blah blah.” And give you directions to get there.
Do you see the difference? We’re no longer looking for where WE can get the info we want, but rather expecting that Google itself knows the answer. This fundamentally changes how we’re looking for information online, and we think this change is going to stick around for a while.
Yes – Superapps. Back in August, the New York Times released a video all about China’s tech world that exists within the Great Firewall, specifically focusing on WeChat, a so-called Superapp.
Essentially, WeChat has the functionalities of many different apps all rolled into one – it fills the role of:
Social networks (Facebook/Instagram)
And others. Naturally, this allows the collection of a tremendous amount of user information on a scale that Google and Facebook can only dream of – which is why in the back half of 2016 we’ve started to see that ‘Swiss Army knife’ approach to app design jump the Pacific and start to crop up here.
This concept of superapps is too tantalizing to let go. Companies, who have been veering towards single-function will start to flow back towards complex, multiple functionalities in the hope of becoming the West’s version of WeChat.
3. Hardware is stagnating
Remember when each year brought a huge breakthrough in technical innovation? Well, 2016 has sort of bucked that trend. The pace of innovation appears to be going through a more incremental phase right now.
Better battery life (with larger batteries), better low light cameras, a baby step towards better VR and AR, tougher screens – these are all positive innovations. But a breakthrough? We don’t think so.
One new product that we do like is the new Moto Z and it’s Moto Mods, which as you can see through it’s commercial, is taking a direct shot at the stagnant innovation in hardware. Moto Mods are similar to Google’s project Ara and might be a glimpse into the next breakthrough coming to smartphones. Who know where we ill go in 2017, but for now we’re happy that our phones can go all day and all night.
4. Mobile is transitioning off phones
Our understanding of what mobile means has changed significantly over the past year. Back when wearables were being introduced, there was an inkling that ‘mobile’ might mean more than phones.
But over the last year, that message has been drilled into us as the internet of things becomes an ever-increasing reality.
Which again, represents a fundamental change in how we think about mobile products. It’s not that Ford is making cars that integrate with apps – it’s that the language being used is the language of the app and mobile worlds. Basically, Ford is saying it is interested in how its customers use its technology first, only dealing with the hardware second.
What does this mean for companies?
The potential for mobile development is huge. Apps and devices are experiencing explosive growth and while apps on phones might be old news, the potential to leverage technology in other devices (e.g. cars) with software and hardware integrations is huge.
Wrap up for the year
2016’s been a good time for mobile trends. Our relationship with our mobile technology is better than it’s ever been, and companies are growing increasingly adept at identifying and solving sticking points with their mobile products.
Mobile’s been on point, and we are excited about what it’s going to bring in 2017.
Let’s start by stating the obvious: mobile is different from desktop, and designing with mobile top-of-mind is becoming increasingly important. Users are turning to their mobile devices more and more these days, and that means website designs need to adapt – in ways that go beyond a smaller screen size.
With mobile becoming an increasingly popular way to connect, the way users interact with online content is shifting. In this post, we’ll look at some of the ways user interactions on mobile differ from interactions on desktop – and how you can use those differences to design a better mobile experience.
1) Tapable vs. Clickable Interactions
Most mobile devices today use a touchscreen, which fundamentally changes the way users interact with them: instead of using a cursor to click, users tap their screen and gesture to interact with interface elements.
This might not sound like a huge deal, but it’s actually one of the main things that needs to be accommodated for in mobile design, and it crops up all over the place. Think of how you click a text link. It’s easy enough to click an embedded link with a mouse, but with finger taps it’s a different story – this is sometimes referred to as the “fat finger problem.”
The fat finger problem is easy to solve once you’re aware of it. It’s just a matter of enlarging interface elements – things like call-to-action buttons, links, and navigation labels – and ensuring that there’s adequate space between them.
2) Dropdown Menus
Speaking of taps, one way of thinking about the quality of mobile design is to consider how many taps it takes a user to complete a given task (less taps = more usability). Which brings us to dropdown menus, the mobile “UI of last resort.”
Dropdown menus work fine on desktop, where the number of taps and amount of user interaction isn’t such a big deal. On mobile, however, dropdowns become a big problem for users, and they’re often used where more appropriate, more user-friendly, or simpler controls would work better.
Let’s say you’re filling out a form on your phone. If that form used dropdown menus for every question, it would be a nightmare to fill out – dropdowns require multiple taps, more involved interaction, and they generally take longer.
On the flipside, a form that uses a variety of context-appropriate input controls for different kinds of information would be significantly more usable. Date range pickers (the kind you often see on flight or hotel booking websites) are a good example of this. Instead of using a complicated dropdown menu to choose dates – which would require lots of tapping and scrolling – date range pickers let users select their dates with a few taps. It’s less time consuming, more context-appropriate, and it works particularly well on mobile.
The proof is in the numbers. This test found that avoiding dropdown menus on mobile made users 60% faster, and dramatically reduced user errors. It also found that using a stepper, as opposed to a dropdown menu, resulted in an 11% higher success rate (88% vs. 77%).
And by simply changing controls, the test found the minimal number of taps to complete a task can be reduced by a factor of three.
Examples of vertical mobile website navigation
Mobile screens aren’t only smaller than desktop – they’re also oriented differently. Most desktop devices have a landscape orientation, whereas most mobile users view content in portrait. That has implications for a few design choices, the main one being navigation.
Mobile sites are better suited to vertical, rather than horizontal navigation. While it’s true that horizontal is the navigation style of choice for desktop – since it makes it easier for users to focus on site content – vertical navigation is much easier to use on mobile.
We said the differences between desktop and mobile go beyond screen size, but let’s face it – screen size is still one of the biggest things to think about when it comes to designing for mobile.
A smaller screen means less room for text, graphics, and other content. So to do mobile design well, you’ve got to bite the bullet and prioritize certain content. That might mean reducing word count, eliminating some graphics, or deferring secondary information to other pages.
Desktop sites can afford to include a wide range of content, but mobile sites don’t have that luxury. The challenge, according to NN Group, is to find the right line to cut between mobile and desktop features. The goal is to satisfy most of a mobile user’s needs, but not include anything superfluous that will negatively impact the mobile user experience – especially elements that will increase page load time on a 3G (or slower) network.
Which leads us to our next point…
5) Situation-based Design
Mobile’s mobility is another major departure from the days of desktop. When website users were all on desktop, designers didn’t have to give much thought to where or how users were interacting with their site. But now, the situations users are in when on their phones are endless. Mobile devices are portable, they follow us everywhere, and they’re almost always connected.
That means that when designing for mobile, thinking through situations is important. Users’ locations vary quickly, as does their attentiveness, and internet connectivity comes in and out. According to the Interaction Design Foundation, ever-changing context means that “users are going to prefer short, simple interactions on mobile. It’s not to say that they will never carry out long, complex interactions but these will be rare.”
6) Integration With Phone Functions
We’ve talked a lot in this post about the things designers have to give up when they’re designing for mobile, but mobile devices have a number of bonus features that can really enhance a site visitor’s experience.
Integration with phone functions, like direct calling and messaging, voice controls, camera, and location services can offer users quicker interactions and more tailored functionality to improve their experience in ways that desktop sites can’t.
Designing sites for mobile is a whole different kettle of fish, in ways that go way beyond screen size. Users interact with their phones and mobile devices differently – they tap screens, get online on the go, and spend less time browsing – and that requires a fundamentally different kind of website.
If you have questions about your next mobile project, get in touch.
When we’re talking about computer-altered realities, we tend to focus on virtual reality and brush off the closely related world of augmented reality (“AR”).
But with the recent release of the incredibly popular Pokémon Go app, AR has now earned its time in the spotlight.
We’re sure you’ve heard enough about Pokémon Go from your coworkers and friends to last you a lifetime, but bear with us: the app has some important things to teach us about the future of augmented reality and app development in general.
While it may have been hard to guess ahead of time, Pokémon Go (and its approach to augmented reality) might just be the app that fundamentally shakes up how we use technology to interact with the world.
What is Augmented Reality?
Digital Trends defines augmented reality as ‘the interaction of superimposed graphics, audio and other sense enhancements over a real-world environment that’s displayed in real time.’
Examples of augmented are surprisingly easy to find, they are as simple as the graphics you often see superimposed onto TV footage, or a Snapchat filter. But we’re entering a new phase of augmented reality that’s more interactive, user-driven, and app-based.
Augmented Reality Progress Report
Different incarnations of AR tech have been around for a while, but it has been slow to take the mass market by storm. Om Malik has referred to AR as ‘the boy who cried wolf of the post-Internet world – it’s long been promised but has rarely been delivered in a satisfying way.’
We’ve seen AR-supporting products like Google Glass flop, and various companies like Lego and IKEA try to get AR apps off the ground to limited success. Microsoft has promised a future with rich AR experiences with its forthcoming Hololens, but so far It hasn’t been clear how AR technology will be used effectively.
Until now, that is. With the release of the Pokémon Go app, we’ve got one of the first successful examples of how augmented reality might start to change the way we use phones to interact with our environments.
So what does Pokémon Go have that previous AR attempts were missing? Hint: it’s not just that people love Pokémon.
Pokémon Go’s Augmented Reality
By now, you’ve probably seen packs of Pokémon-hunters running around your city trying to bag a Pikachu or Charizard. The app’s popularity has reached incredible heights: two days after its release, it had been downloaded on 5.16% of Android phones, and within a week, it was the most downloaded app in the Apple App Store. Plus, people are spending more time daily on Pokémon Go than Facebook or Snapchat (43 minutes, to be exact).
Some part of the Pokémon Go success story can be attributed to a nostalgia for the classic franchise, but its success across gender, age and ethnicity shows that there is more too it than just that.
The Pokémon Go app combines AR tech with the GPS and camera features of smartphones to create an interactive experience, where players explore the Pokemon world through their phone, with their feet still firmly planted in the real world.
The players’ real environments are overlaid with computer-generated game features, like ‘Pokestops’ and ‘Pokegyms’. The game’s AR tech lets players spot and catch Pokémon in the wild, so to speak: they can be found almost anywhere, from parks to streets, to shops and cafes.
Lessons for the Future of Augmented Reality Apps
So what does this new step in AR implementation mean for the rest of the app world? Here are the main lessons we can draw from Pokémon Go’s successful use of AR, and what they’ll mean for the future of app development.
1) Good AR is interactive
The fact that Pokémon Go lets users interact with the world around them (in augmented form) is a major draw card for the game.
AR of yesteryear didn’t focus much on interaction, but we can expect that to change going forward, partly thanks to the power of smartphones. We’re living in a world where smartphones have cameras, GPS, barometers and an array of other features that can turn AR into a more immersive and interactive experience.
What we are excited about is that this interaction in AR doesn’t have to be catching Pokémon – it could be as simple as using an AR application to pull up product information in a store, check into a bar, or learn more about a piece of art in a museum. Whatever it is, we’re expecting the future of AR to harness interactivity in a big way.
2) Good AR is social
Pokémon Go is a really social AR experience. Sure, you play the game alone on a personal screen, but users create teams to play with, and the nature of the game requires that players go into the real world and engage with their environment. Given the size of the audience, playing is also a bonding experience – fellow Pokémon Go players are easy to spot and chat strategy with on the street.
The fact that Pokémon Go is so social should tell us something interesting about the future of AR applications. Whereas past attempts at AR (such as Google Glass’s AR features), have focused on users as individuals, successful AR of the future might rely more on creating community and providing opportunities for users to engage with each other in their augmented reality worlds.
3) Good AR doesn’t require special equipment
Anyone with a smartphone can play Pokémon Go, which is a far cry from the Google Glass vision of augmented reality that was dominant a few years ago. This more approachable and accessible version of augmented reality has definitely played a role in the app’s popularity.
Here’s the thing: smartphones today have the processing power, camera, and GPS capabilities to do some impressive things. And while Facebook and Microsoft are both developing their own VR and AR wearables, it’s now clear that you can create an engaging AR experience without any special bells and whistles.
This realisation is a big step towards more widespread AR use on the user end, and we can expect to see more companies and app developers embracing AR on the smartphone as a result.
With the release of Pokémon Go, we’ve taken a big leap forward into the world of mainstream augmented reality. And it’s not just Pokémon Go that’s propelling us into the future. Facebook is rumoured to be developing new augmented reality glasses, Microsoft has been playing around with their HoloLens AR glasses, and it’s becoming clear that even a basic smartphone can now give users a seamless AR experience on just about any app.
There are big things ahead for augmented reality – and app developers would be wise to take note.
When we first covered beacon technology way back in 2013, we called it the next big thing in mobile connectedness. The hype around beacon technology when Apple released its iBeacon technology was so strong that it seemed inevitable that beacon tech would take over the world.
Flash forward a few years, and beacon technology has taken longer to catch on than anyone anticipated. But recently, it’s been gaining momentum. In 2016, beacons are expected to drive $44 billion in retail sales (up from $4 billion in 2016), and more and more companies are jumping on the beacon bandwagon, from the traditional retail setting, to airlines, hotels, and banks.
Now that beacons are well on their way, how are companies and organizations using them to successfully improve the real-world mobile experience? In this post, we’ll cover some of the best use cases for beacons. But first, let’s review what beacon technology really is.
alert apps when you approach or leave a location. In addition to monitoring your location, an app knows when you’re close to an iBeacon, like a checkout counter in a retail store.
What does that mean in practice? Let’s say you’re visiting one of your favourite stores, armed with the retailer’s mobile app. When you pass by a beacon (a small device placed at strategic points throughout the store), the retailer can use beacon messages to make personalised offers, alert you to products you might like, or tell you about sales.
The retailer can then also use data collected from the beacons to make business decisions based on store traffic flows, product popularity, and buyer trends.
Although Apple kicked off the beacon hype with iBeacon, it’s not the only player in the game. Google has its own beacon standard, called Eddystone, and there are a large number of manufacturers – most notably, Estimote – who make the physical beacons.
Best Beacon Use Cases
When beacons first came out, they were most strongly associated with retail settings. Over the years, though, other types of organizations have adopted beacons and extended their functionality for real-world context to events, dating apps, museums, and banks. Here are some of the best:
For the 2015 event, the Austin Convention Centre was decked out with more than 1,000 beacons that pinged attendees with useful notifications throughout the conference. Anyone with an iPhone was able to take advantage of the iBeacon tech to pick up their badges, complete their registration, and find their way around the location.
The beacons also welcomed users to sessions with information and an invitation to join a group discussion within the app.
Danske Bank partnered with GoAppified and Netclearance systems to use beacons to create better payment experiences by integrating beacon tech with their MobilePay app, a platform that already had three million users.
Here’s how it worked: the bank set up beacons at the checkout counters of hundreds of retails stores across Denmark. After passing their phones over the beacons, customers received a notification asking them to approve the purchase by swiping right. It’s a simple, intuitive, and quick payment system, and it’s setting the standard for beacon use in mobile pay settings.
Other banks are getting into the beacon game as well, by using beacon tech to push personalized notifications out to customers when they enter a branch. But Danske Bank’s use of beacons to improve the mobile payment experience is a huge step forward. It’s a well-timed one as well – the total amount of proximity mobile payments is expected to grow 210% in 2016, according to eMarketer.
Blinq is a Swiss dating app that says it’s ‘like meeting in a bar – just easier.’ What does that mean? Blinq is using beacons to connect users who are in the same place at the same time.
Blinq installed beacons at bars and clubs around Zurich that send out notifications to app-users when another single user who matches their interests is at the same location as them. Users can then chose to say ‘Hi’ or ‘Bye’, meet up, and hang out. Putting the potential for creepiness aside, the use of beacon technology in this case is unique and interesting.
Blinq also has a ‘Hotspot’ feature that gives users a list of the top 5 clubs and bars that suit their interests best (and have the most eligible singles at them), based on real-time trends that are monitored using the beacons.
The app has been successful, and it’s also given us a look at how beacons might be used in social networking platforms and dating tools going forward.
via Australian Museum
Australian Museum is using beacons to take on a question plaguing museums everywhere: how do you attract young visitors? Their answer: gamify the museum experience using beacons.
Australian Museum developed an app called Trailblazer, which uses a scavenger hunt to encourage users to travel around the museum collecting items (which are marked by a beacon). Beacons are also used to give users a ‘radar’ feature, which tells them how close they are to particular objects in the exhibition.
Premium passengers who downloaded the app would receive personalized notifications and offers during their time at Heathrow. Virgin also used iBeacon to notify passengers when they were getting close to a security check, reminding them to have their boarding passes ready, or sending them offers on currency exchange deals.
Airline staff were also outfitted with Google Glass or a Sony Smartwatch with an app that managed task allocation and delivered customer information directly to staff to help them personally welcome each passenger.
Beacon technology has come a long way since its early days. After a slow start, it’s certainly picking up steam. The traditional retail applications of beacon tech are growing, and other organizations from transport to dating apps are also embracing beacons.
Three years later, the future is starting to look bright for beacons.
In late May, Google hosted its annual Google I/O event, where it announced its major product launches and updates. There were a few surprises and a lot of big changes. Here are the highlights that developers and designers should be taking note of.
Android N is kicking things up a notch
Google previewed its new Android OS (which is set to be released later this summer), and it comes with a ton of new features. Split-screen multitasking, new emojis, improved software updating and virtual reality platforms are just some of the new elements of the software that users can expect to see on their devices when they upgrade to ’N’. Google is also promising better security and faster performance.
Developers are getting some new features with Android N as well, like Vulkan, a new API that gives developers direct control of a phone’s GPU for higher-performance 3D graphics.
Virtual reality is coming to Android
Google unveiled its plans for Daydream, a VR platform for Android. It’s still in the dream phase for users, but when it is publicly released, it will allow users access to a suite of VR apps that they can access in a ‘viewer’ (like Google Cardboard). You can see a walkthrough of the platform in the video below:
Developers can get their hands on Daydream now, and for good reason: while Google is building the framework for Daydream, it needs developers to build the apps, games, and VR experiences that will draw users in.
Google has already started to build VR versions of its apps (like Street View, YouTube, and Google Photos), but other companies are also getting in on Daydream. Word has it that the New York Times, HBO, and Netflix are among companies that have started developing their Daydream apps.
Google Assistant is taking on Siri
Gearing up to take on Apple’s Siri, Google officially launched ‘Google Assistant’, which is essentially a smarter, more sophisticated version of its existing ‘OK, Google’ feature. Google Assistant has sophisticated tech that gets to know its users’ preferences and habits, and help them make better, more refined searches.
Plus, like the newest version of Siri, the Google Assistant is integrated with a ton of other apps – it can facilitate many different actions, from recommending movies, to buying you the tickets and even hailing you the Uber to get you there. This opens up a plethora of new integration opportunities for app developers.
Android Instant Apps is shaking up mobile
In an interesting twist, Google introduced a concept it’s calling ‘Android Instant Apps’, which will let you use an app without downloading the whole thing. Check out the quick explainer video from The Verge below:
It’s a cool idea for users, and it’s positioned as an improvement for the mobile browsing experience. Let’s say you’re browsing a news web site, and you click a video link. If the site has an app that could stream that video better, Google Play will get you the parts of that app that will enhance your experience, without making you download the whole thing.
What does this mean for developers? Google says it should take ‘less than a day of work’ for developers to set up their apps for the feature. Beyond that, the links between apps and websites could also help developers monetize their apps successfully and get buy-in from users.
Google is taking on another major competitor with Google Home – but this time it’s the Amazon Echo. Google Home is a sleek little device with an integrated speaker that connects your devices and lets you wander around your house asking Google questions and getting help from the new Google Assistant. It doesn’t have a confirmed release date yet, but is expected later this year.
But there’s sad news for developers: Google hasn’t opened up the Homes API – yet. According to Google, integration with a huge range of apps and devices is inevitable, and developers will get the opportunity to work with Google Home in the near future.
Firebase 2.0 is getting a major expansion
This is the big news for developers: the Firebase development platform is getting a slew of updates and new features for building and testing apps. Firebase has always had a good reputation for developers, but this is a major step up.
Here’s the highlight reel of the new-and-improved features coming to Firebase 2.0:
A new Analytics module that will allow developers to define custom user groups, called Audiences, and follow user-centric metrics
Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM), an integration with Google Cloud Messaging that promises a better cloud-to-device push messaging service for developers
Firebase Storage, which will give developers Google Cloud-powered storage for images, videos and other large files
Firebase Remote Config, a feature that lets you instantly update and fine tune various app variables on the go, without releasing a whole new version
An improved Firebase Test Lab for Android and Firebase Crash Reporting
Admob, a feature that will help developers monetize their apps
A bunch of features for growing and engaging your app’s audience, including Firebase Notifications, Firebase Dynamic Links, Firebase app indexing (formerly Google App indexing), and integration with Google’s AdWords
You can check out all of the Firebase updates here.
Android Studio 2.2 is getting an upgrade
Android Studio 2.2 is also getting a few updates that developers will no doubt appreciate. The upgrades largely focus on speed, promising faster development turnaround, faster builds, and faster layouts, with more automation and quality checks.
Odds and Ends
There were plenty of other announcements from Google at this year’s conference, including new messaging and video apps (called Allo and Duo, respectively), an overhaul for Android Wear (which is available exclusively for developers now) that’s focused on making wearables more autonomous, and new updates on the Google Car project.
It was a dense conference, so if you want a full run down of the announcements, we recommend checking out the full keynote here.
The 2016 Google I/O highlighted the fact that Google sees the future of technology as a more interactive one. Most of the updates and new products focused on letting consumers interact more with their technology. From the Google Assistant, to Home, to Virtual Reality, it was all about drawing users in to a more connected tech ecosystem.
Google also made it clear that the developer experience matters. Firebase and Android studio both received major upgrades that aim to improve how developers and designers work with Google. There were also announcements of early release developer editions for much of Google’s new tech.
Google knows what a key role developers play in the success of its tech, and the 2016 I/O made it clear that it’s cultivating that relationship.
With summer officially in full swing, we’re gearing up for travel season. We’re bookmarking our favouriteblogs, sticking books in our beach bags, and trying to organize the details of travel plans to make our vacations as painless as possible.
Luckily, there’s a nearly endless list of travel apps that can simplify your trip planning, find you the cheapest flights, and hook you up with travel buddies wherever you go. Here are the ones that stand out from the crowd.
This app is like Google Maps’ cooler, smarter older sibling: it has a more detailed and informative trip planner, as well disruption alerts, Uber integration, cycle routes, and real-time public transit updates that will ensure you never get lost again. It’s also got some entertaining (albeit not very useful) features that’ll keep you distracted during inevitable travel delays, like information about how long it would take you to jetpack to your destination.
Airbnb’s app is great for booking accommodation, but it does more than just hook you up with a great vacation apartment – the company has started to move into experiential travel, with features that can connect you with locals who give out insider tips and neighborhood guides, lead tours, and take travellers on adventures.
If you like the Airbnb concept but you’re more of a camper, it might be worthwhile to check out Hipcamp. It’s similar to Airbnb, but instead of renting out a house, you can use it to find a patch of land, a campsite, or a space in someone’s yard to pitch a tent.
Are you taking planes, trains and automobiles to get to your destination? Tripit can help you coordinate all of the legs of your journey, and it will organize an itinerary for you that includes flights, rental cars and driving directions, hotel bookings, and events. All you have to do is forward your confirmation emails to the app, and it will take care of the rest.
4. Google Translate
It’s not going to help you become fluent in Italian, but Google Translate is great for helping you quickly translate every day words on the fly. It’s super easy to use – just hold your camera up to any piece of text, and Google will spit out a translation instantly.
LiveTrekker is a good option for anyone who loves tracking themselves and recording where they’ve been.
The app tracks all of your steps, marks them on a map, and lets you record the sights and sounds around you with notes, so you’ll be able to look back on your trip in vivid detail.It’s also a great companion for adventure travellers, as it keeps track of your altitude and speed.
6. Time Out
A guide book for your smart phone, the Time Out app offers up suggestions of things to do, places to eat, and sites to see in cities around the world.
There are many guide book-like apps out there, but Time Out’s event finder tool and its ability to book restaurants and concert tickets really sets it apart from the competition.
If you aren’t sure where you’re headed on your next vacation yet, Skyscanner is a great tool to turn to for ideas.
It makes it easy to investigate all of your flight options by letting you search for flights to anywhere in the world, and offering a great display of low airfares that pinpoints the cheapest days to fly. You can also set flight alerts for specific routes, and easily compare prices for nearby destinations and airports.
Another flight finding app, Hopper is great for bargain hunters. Hopper gives you advice on when you should fly and when you should buy your tickets.
Hopper makes surprisingly accurate price predictions to let you know whether you should book tickets ASAP or hold out for a better price, and it lays out your options for the best days to travel on your chosen route. It’ll also notify you when prices go up or down.
Besides a memorable name, Hipmunk, a travel planning app, has a couple of great features going for it.
Its ‘Agony Index’ lets you rank flights based on their potential unpleasantness using a combination of price, flight, duration, and number of stops so that you can strike a balance between price and comfort. Its hotel search lets you narrow things down to your favorite neighborhood or site, and its ‘Heatmaps’ feature will direct you to the coolest, most hip neighbourhoods.
10. Oanda Currency Converter
There are a ton of currency conversion apps out there, but the Oanda converter has a simple interface that’s easy to use. It can convert amounts for more than 190 currencies, and it lets you keep your frequently used currencies on hand for quick access.
Honourable Mention: Adventurely
Solo travelling can be tough, but Adventurely has you covered. The app lets you input your travel dates and destinations and the sites you want to visit, then it matches you up with other travellers who are doing the same thing. It’s a great idea – but the catch is that for now, it’s only available in NYC and Brooklyn.