In 2011, we saw a lot of innovation in the world of application development on both desktop and mobile platforms. Tablets enjoyed rising popularity, a slew of new app stores populated the Web, and businesses set their sights on using software applications to improve their day-to-day operations.
For Web designers and app developers, 2012 will offer plenty of opportunity as well. Here are seven areas they should be watching closely in the next 12 months.
1. Motion and Voice Recognition
With Wii and Xbox 360, Nintendo and Microsoft have brought motion and voice recognition to the masses. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Almost every item on this list has built-in voice or motion recognition software—or both. Apps based on this technology aren’t just for gamers. Businesses and everyday consumers will take an interest in them as well.
2. Smart TVs
Clearly, “intelligent” technology devices are becoming all the rage. First there were smartphones. Now Samsung and other vendors are showing off next-generation televisions called “Smart TVs.” These hybrid products look and act like their less brainy brethren, but, with amped up hardware and updated operating systems under the hood, they also allow users to browse the Internet, shop at online app stores, and play games.
Marketing Smart TVs could pose a challenge, though, given that most consumers aren’t switching out their TVs with the frequency they do their mobile phones. Manufacturers will need to put together enticing bundles. For designers and developers, the possibilities are virtually limitless given all the technology items on the menu—voice and motion recognition, 3D, and WiFi, among them.
3. Next-Gen Tablets
In 2011, we saw tablets gain traction in both the corporate and consumer sectors. Apple released the iPad 2, and a handful of other technology companies joined the fray. There’s another wave coming in 2012, and this year’s products will be running more powerful hardware. But it remains to be seen what functionality vendors will choose to include in these mobile devices.
The biggest opportunity for app developers is in the business space. Airlines are putting their safety manuals on tablets; schools are unveiling tablet initiatives; and businesses are starting to give mobile employees tablets instead of laptops. Virtually every business is looking for better ways to communicate and organize data. With that in mind, app developers should be thinking up faster, more powerful applications that will help companies do what they do better and more efficiently.
4. Phonegap and Titanium
One of the biggest challenges for Web developers and programmers is learning new programming languages such as Java and Objective-C that they can use to create native applications for Apple and Google devices. Last year, we saw a rise in usage of third-party products such as Phonegap and Titanium Appcelerator. Those allow Web designers and developers to program in Web-based languages and put the final product on app stores and in a native language for iPhones and Android devices.
This year, people will be paying a lot more attention to these platforms. Case in point: Barnes & Noble has partnered with Appcelerator to encourage Web designers and developers to get involved in app production for the NOOK and other B&N products. A number of books have been written about these programming languages, and their user communities are growing larger every day. These languages are being used now for Windows and Blackberry devices as well.
5. HTML5 and CSS3
The future of design and development on the Web? HTML5 and CSS3. It’s inevitable, and people in the community are pushing for this to happen sooner rather than later. With updates to the two most popular Web programming languages, there are unlimited possibilities as to what can be created in a browser. The quicker this technology is supported the better.
With tablets becoming more popular, televisions having fully functional Web browsers and operating systems, and technology such as Phonegap and Appcelerator Titanium on the rise, HTML5 and CSS3 are already playing a more integral part in application development, both within browsers and as native apps. All mobile phone browsers already support most, if not all, of the currently used CSS3 styles, and more features are being added all the time. Designers and developers should start learning as much as they can about HTML5 and CSS3 and implementing what they learn to some capacity in all future projects.
6. Windows 8 Ecosystem
For the first time in recent memory, Microsoft is drawing a large amount of interest in its forthcoming version of Windows, mostly because of the product ecosystem the company is trying to create. The Windows 8 interface seems to be taking a lot of its functionality and design from Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s most recent mobile operating system or what they refer to as ‘metro-style’ UI. Between Microsoft’s Windows 8, touch and voice recognition, PC-compatible Xbox Kinect, and new tablets, the software behemoth is creating a lot of buzz all around. And, of course, all of this opens doors wide for developers.
Microsoft already has a hold on the home market—most home computers in America are Windows-based—but these developments help extend Microsoft’s reach elsewhere too, with some interesting app design possibilities for mobile phones, tablets, desktops, and even the Wii console system. We’ll see later this year, when Windows 8 is released, how it’s received by consumers, but this operating system holds a lot of promise, much as Windows XP did when it was released in 2001.
7. Apple Products
A blog about up-and-coming technology wouldn’t be complete without talking about Apple. It appears that this technology powerhouse will follow its typical pattern in 2012, releasing a new iPad in March or April and a new phone in the fall.
One big question: Are rumors of an Apple-branded television really true? If so, this will be a good platform for the next iteration of Angry Birds or Wunderlist. A TV from Apple would also give developers a large canvas for their apps on smaller devices. And corporations might sit up and take notice also. Imagine an Apple TV in every conference room, with FaceTime built in and an iPad synched up with it.
Another thing to keep in mind: With Apple’s release of its iCloud system in 2011, we can expect cloud computing to play a bigger role in app development this year too.
All in all, 2012 promises to be a year filled with plenty of new gadgets and opportunities for app developers. Companies that have been around for years in the tech industry have big plans for going forward, and some familiar faces in other aspects of consumer electronics are breaking into the industry as well. The most important idea to come away with is that application developers will have a lot more toys to play with starting this year and for years to come.