App Development

Six Top Mobile Trends to Watch for in 2016

1. The Mobile Search Land Grab If you pay attention to one trend in 2016, it should be how mobile search is changing. To date, mobile search has largely disappointedーin fact mobile search declined in 2015, driven by a desire to avoid typing, clumsy results, and a majority of consumer time spent within apps.

Mobile search SHOULD be very different from desktop searchーon desktops, the huge majority of content we are looking for is in the browser, except for specific exceptions like document search. Conversely, on mobile devices, the majority of content we want is within apps, whether commerce apps, news apps, social media and messaging apps, contact lists, to do lists, etc.

The coming big shift will be the ability users have to search their entire device from the primary search bar on the phoneーand then, to deep link into the content within the relevant apps that search turns up. According to Search Engine Land, over 40% of Android searches already show app-indexed results. When useful results are combined with voice search (which has been used by about 25% of mobile users according to ZenithOptimedia) in lieu of typing, we believe the result will be a massive increase in mobile search over the next two years.

This is the biggest opportunity since desktop SEO a decade ago. Companies that intelligently index their apps and allow users to easily find the information they want, and allow other apps to link to that content directly, will have a huge advantage. What is it worth to a hotel chain to be the first result for a search of “hotel room New York” or a news media company for “current presidential polls”?

For more information on how companies can implement deep linking, indexing and other mobile search results, please see our blog post here:

2. Loyalty Reinvented by Mobile One of our favorite quotes from the past few years has been, “30% of American consumers are using mobile commerce, but 90% of those are using it to buy coffee.” Starbucks has been the gold standard for tying mobility to loyalty, driven by frequency (if you go to Starbucks three times a week it eventually makes sense to download the app), seamless integration between loyalty and payment, and a demystification of their rewards program (no one ever went online to check their status for the next free coffee, but putting it clearly on top of the app becomes and addictive feature).

Today, every brand that has a significant percentage of frequent customers (i.e. visiting more than once a month or at least once a quarter) is reinventing its relationship with those customers by using mobility to tie payment and loyalty together. They are also incenting consumers by clarifying rewards levels and actions they can take to get to a better status or reward. The investments in the back end to make this happen are significant, but programs that work efficiently within an efficient user experience, such as Regal Cinemas new app, have already shown incredible traction in the market. Consumers expect that by tying payment and loyalty together, their experience with any merchant will be significantly enhanced.

3. Location and Beacon-Based Mobile Commerce We expect some snickers here. Is this the 2014 prediction list? Weren’t beacons supposed to reinvent the shopping experience? And what has happened? Well, we believe the problem isn’t with the technology, it’s with the implementation. Beacons and similar location-based technologies simply allow the user to receive notifications or content based on where they are. If that content sucks, well the user isn’t going to respond to it.

For the most part, marketers have not made the investments to leverage the technology. In theory, companies can target users based on their demos, habits and location. The holy grail. But as Yogi Berra said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.”

The reality of what has happened is where beacons have been deployed, generally static and lame marketing messages are endlessly repeated to customers, resulting in low impact or consumers turning off notification features for those apps. However, we believe if brands make the investments in both personnel and automation to run innovative marketing programs with engaging messages and offers, coupled with real data analysis to optimize what works, the opportunity for location-based offers and notifications is real. We predict we will see the first breakthrough success stories in 2016.

4. Video Everywhere, Even on Your TV From watching TV/movies to social media to enterprise apps, video consumption will continue to explode in 2016. The data is staggering – according to Cisco mobile video traffic was up 70% in 2015, with over 55% of mobile data being consumed by video.

Video should be a central component of almost any mobile strategy – but for media companies, the interesting action will be around monetization. According to Mary Meeker the biggest opportunity in advertising remains mobility, where about ¼ of screen time is, but less than 5% of advertising is spent. Consumers want video, especially young consumers - and the opportunity for compelling video ads even within non-video based apps is huge. Ad spend will start catching up this year, and the huge opportunity is to create ad formats and experiences in mobile that rival the power of the traditional :30 television spot.

We also remain convinced the opportunity around TV apps is massive and just beginning, whether on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, game consoles like XBox or Playstation, or directly on TVs like Samsung’s Tizen-based platform. This is a land-grab opportunity where consumers are now forming habits that will last for years. Opportunities for improving user experiences abound, especially around discovery and frictionless integration with handheld devices. We hate to self-sample but our kids basically don’t understand linear programming - they watch video through the apps on their tablets, Roku or Apple TV. Other than live sports/events, the concept of a show being “on” is completely lost on them.

5. User First Experience Design Based on how project work with our clients has changed in the last 12-18 months, we expect a continued focus on the user. Two years ago, clients would come to us with a list of features and ask for a price. Today, they are much more likely to begin with a problem (e.g. “How do we engage millennial moms across our digital and non-digital assets?”). Combined WillowTree-client teams then work through an omni-channel approach starting with personas and user stories to discover how different users, whether consumers or employees, interact with the brand and systems, and how we can change that behavior over time.

Companies are re-inventing entire business processes around user-centric stories and the availability of mobility. For example, we recently helped a company reduce its average in-the-field ordering time from 16 minutes to be below 2 minutes by using smart mobile-based techniques. We did this by only showing parts that were relevant to the machine the technician was fixing, and by default sorting those parts in order of likelihood to break. The experience changed from a painful process of navigating through several 100K SKUs to a couple taps. The breakthrough concepts were not invented in the board road, but were all ideas the technicians themselves had, borne out of extensive user research and ride alongs.

Currently the average US company has fewer than 1 in 100 employees focused on user experience (according to The Next Silicon Valley) - compared to more than 1 in 4 at Silicon Valley companies like Ebay. Most companies now understand what needs to be done - this is another area where the gulf between theory and practice remains large, but in 2016 we expect it to begin closing rapidly.

6. Security Hits the Boardroom Every executive should be asking how secure the company’s mobile systems are. The threats are multi-faceted, but can be broken down into a few categories: (i) poor app security; (ii) poor API/firewall security and (iii) inside jobs.

  • Poor App Security - This refers to risks wherein the apps themselves are easy to compromise. The most likely source are Android apps that are not obfuscated/encrypted. Hackers can decompile Android apps (or web based apps), and when not properly obfuscated, easily determine how the apps are accessing a company’s most important back-end systems and data. Every app should be hardened in this way, and for most apps, it’s worth having a third party do security reviews.
  • Poor API/Firewall/Cloud Security - Mobile applications interface with back-end systems to obtain/submit data - penetrating these systems is what hackers are after. So just as you harden your front-end applications to ensure they cannot be used as a guide to show hackers how to penetrate the backend, your backend itself needs to be resistant to direct attacks, whether hosted internally or in the cloud. Your internal systems rely on firewalls and a series of other approaches that are generally well understood by leading IT teams, but again third-party testing is worthwhile.
  • Inside Jobs - By far the most likely source of attacks are from the inside, either intentional or unintentional. It’s critical you know who is working on your applications and has access to critical information. Many of the high profile mobile hacks over the last couple years were initiated by subcontractors or freelancers spread around the globe that the client company likely didn’t even know were on the project. Former employees are another major risk, as are weak password protocols and failure use techniques like two factor authentication on critical systems. At a minimum, it’s absolutely critical that you understand who every person is that can access your systems and code base, that their interactions can be tracked, and that they are in countries where you have legal and other recourse if things go wrong.

Here’s to making 2016 another great year in mobile. If you have any thoughts or questions on our predictions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. In the coming weeks we’ll be at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and SXSW in Austin - would love to meet up if you’re there.

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