App Development

Mobile Innovation Year in Review

There is no doubt that 2015 saw many new and exciting developments in the world of mobile. We surveyed our expert team here at WillowTree to see what they thought were the biggest mobile innovations of the year.

Kevin Snead (Lead Software Engineer):

Mobile Payments

Mobile payments have been available for quite a while, but it seems that only since Apple entered the field with ApplePay did many retailers take notice. While many retailers have now been opening up to Apple Pay and Android Pay, others have formed a coalition to block use of these native payment methods and use their own in an attempt to gather more customer information.

Accessible TV Platform

Smart TVs are also not new, but there is a glaring issue with the way these units are built: there are limited facilities for upgrading. Building and maintaining software for smart TVs is not the primary purpose of the manufacturers and is often sidelined in the effort to get more product out and in homes. External brands would also have to develop complicated relationships with the manufacturers to get their brands’ apps on the TVs. With Apple’s tvOS, the platform is now in the hands of a company known for building and maintaining platforms and for their focus on the user experience. Additionally, brands and individual developers have direct access to the platform with a known and proven development environment.

Continuity of Experience

There has been a greater focus on how brands and experiences span all of the devices that people use to offer a tighter and complementary experience. These experiences will span phones, tablets, TVs, and desktop systems. Apple has made Handoff available to move the experience across devices which empowers the user to make the choice of platform depending on desires and circumstances.

Jeff Ward (Senior Software Engineer):

VR and AR

2015 is really the year where consumer grade virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are becoming a real possibility. Gear VR, Oculus, and Hololens are all demoing in 2015, and releasing early next year. While this isn’t particularly a mobile innovation, it could change the way we interact with computers in the near(-ish) future.

Charlie Fairchild (Senior Software Engineer):

App Streaming

Up until last month, when you searched on Google, you were only able to see information from apps that have matching web content. Google now shows some “app-first” content in search, as well. And while they are exploring this feature with a small group of partners, you’re also going to start seeing an option to “stream” some apps you don’t have installed, right from Google search, just like you were in the app itself.

Google Now on Tap

Introduced by Google in May of this year, “Now on tap,” allows you to simply tap and hold the home button on your Android phone for assistance without having to leave what you’re doing, whether you’re in an app or on a website.

Google Play for Families

Also introduced in May, Google made it easier to find family-friendly content on Google Play with the Family Button, search by age and interests, family star badges, and updated parental controls.

Matt Dawson (Lead Software Engineer):

Microsoft Edge

To celebrate Internet Explorer’s 20th birthday, Microsoft … announced it was killing Internet Explorer. In a move clearly intended to be seen as a fresh start for Microsoft, the company introduced the Edge browser - a ground-up browser rewrite, including a completely new rendering engine. What makes Edge such an exciting product? It’s actually *good*. If Microsoft can keep up with Chrome and Firefox’s “versionless” release strategy, they may be able to win back developer hearts deeply scarred by years of neglect and standards non-compliance.

Node v4

Last year’s biggest Node news was the emergence of io.js, a fork of Node that promised a closer relationship to the development plan for Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine. With io.js on the market, the risk for developers wanting to write JS outside of a browser was that they now had to choose between two very similar but competing platforms without any believable promise that the two platforms would ever converge. As it turned out, the two joined back up far faster than anyone could have hoped. The result is Node v4. The fact that the Node community was able to work through this kind of growing pain so quickly and with (relatively) little backlash bodes well for long-term adoption of the technology.


Innovation in JavaScript at the language specification level has long been limited by the ability of browser vendors to a) agree on how new features should work and b) actually get users to upgrade to versions of their browsers that support the new features. The standards bodies that propose and specify these kinds of new features have introduced a record number in the last several years. Though browsers have done a better job of keeping current, it hasn’t been browser adoption that have changed the way many developers write JavaScript. Instead, that honor goes to Babel. Babel is a “transpiler” - a tool that takes code using new language features not found in current browsers and outputs a version that does the same thing using features all browsers share. (Babel also offers transpilation of React’s JSX syntax extension, a feature that helped spur wider adoption by the web development community.)

Jake Johnson (Lead Project Manager):

Amazon Echo

Echo strives to be that digital in home personal assistant. The gadget is always on and listening and can take commands at any time. Ask Echo to shuffle your favorite play list, done! Ask Echo to set a timer for you, done! Get the weather or even your calendar read back to you.

Feel free to add your thoughts on the biggest mobile innovations in the comments below. And stay tuned for our mobile predictions for 2016, coming soon!

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