The evolution of mobile apps in a post-pandemic world

Much has changed since the global pandemic. For those of us who work in mobile, it's essential to know how the app landscape has evolved and how mobile engineering teams need to respond. Read on to discover our insights.

There is no doubt that consumer behavior changed significantly due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, of all those changes, one stands out as a dramatic, sustained change: an increase in the usage of mobile apps. According to App Annie, the global average time spent on mobile apps in 2021 has increased by 30% to 4.2 hours a day compared to 2019.

While the pandemic will eventually pass, these new mobile-app-related behavior patterns are likely to persist, necessitating thoughtful changes in how mobile teams build mobile apps to ensure that they continue to thrive.

How are consumers using mobile apps differently?

The pandemic led to an explosion of apps designed to help people keep up with modern life while remaining socially distant. Of course, some of these apps were in existence before the pandemic, such as telehealth and mobile banking. But the pandemic increased the adoption of these apps significantly, including among new categories of people.

Contactless mobile payments

Contactless payment apps such as Apple Pay and Google Pay are powered by near-field communication (NFC), which allows devices within the same area (approximately 2-4 inches apart) to interact and exchange information. For example, instead of inserting a card and inputting a PIN on a point-of-sale terminal, you wave or tap your phone over a compatible card reader with NFC technology.

Mobile payments and contactless cards previously constituted a small percentage of payments. But the pandemic caused consumers and retailers alike to expedite their adoption of the technology. Case in point: The National Retail Federation says 69% of retailers surveyed now accept contactless payments, up from an average of 44% in 2019. Also, 74% of consumers say they will continue to use contactless payment methods post-pandemic, and almost two-thirds of consumers would switch to a new business that installed contactless cards.

Gaming

Last year, mobile games swiftly grew to become one of the most versatile and accessible forms of entertainment. Even now, as the pandemic eases, they remain a good pastime for unwinding for a majority of the population.

Think with Google reports that “Worldwide trends show increases in playtime, session time, and in-game purchases across all types of gamers. In fact, over 40% of new gamers say that they’re likely to continue to play. And among gamers overall, one-third report that they’re likely to continue spending money on games, and 65% say they’ll play longer per session.” And it’s not just Gen Zs and millennials that make up these numbers; according to MoPub, individuals 45 and older account for roughly a third of mobile gamers.

Mobile shopping

In an effort to reduce physical contact, mobile shopping became one of the top mobile app categories during the early months of the pandemic. Major US retailers including Amazon, Best Buy, and Home Depot reported colossal growth in app downloads and in-app purchases. But it wasn’t just the major brands; according to research from JMango360 small independent retailers also experienced a 58% increase in purchases made through their mobile apps in 2020. Rest assured, this shift will remain as new data from Heady shows that 57% of shoppers prefer using mobile apps for shopping than any other channel.

According to NPD Group’s Checkout Tracking, in terms of demographics, consumers ages 65 and older were the fastest-growing cohorts of online shoppers, with a 49% rise over the previous year. And because older adults are at higher risk for complications if they contract COVID-19, analysts say they expect the behavior to stick even after the pandemic is over.

Video conferencing apps

As the coronavirus put a halt to all forms of gatherings, many individuals turned to video conferencing apps, including those experiencing it for the first time. Friends and families used them to remain in contact, grandparents used them to talk with their grandchildren, students used them to take classes, and employees and employers alike used them for business meetings. Soon, everyone was hopping from one video call to the other. App Annie’s 2020 annual report on mobile trends shows that Zoom and Google Meet were among the top 10 most downloaded apps for the year. It also predicts that even as organizations rethink flexible and remote working alternatives, usage of video conferencing apps is poised to remain high.

How should mobile teams respond to these changes?

These various mobile app usage statistics show that the increased dependence on mobile apps is here to stay. It also indicates that the landscape of mobile users has further expanded to include individuals of different ages, experiences, and abilities. To that end, if you and your team want to continue to build apps that keep users happy and loyal, you should adopt practices that will allow you to continue to deliver optimal work in the face of the “new normal,” such as:

Build more inclusive apps

As previously stated, the pandemic has caused an increase in the usage of mobile applications by people with diverse perspectives, experiences, and degrees of expertise. Therefore, consider a wide range of user profiles with different abilities or circumstances when building apps to ensure that a diverse set of people can use them.

Accessibility, personalized experiences, and good UI and UX, are all practices that drive inclusiveness and provide a better experience for your users, which in turn leads to better retention. According to research by Epsilon, 80% of consumers have said they’re more likely to purchase from a brand that delivers personalized experiences. Here’s a good article on how to build inclusive mobile apps to start with.

Rethink app discovery tactics

With more people beginning to use mobile apps, consumers must discover your app when they need it if you want to attract part of that number to your app. According to a report featured on the business of apps, 55% of survey respondents said they discovered new apps based on recommendations from friends, family members, or colleagues. In addition, a report from Sensor Tower shows that search on the Apple App Store accounted for 59% of worldwide downloads from the App Store last year. To take advantage of this, you and your team need to prioritize app store optimization (AOS) and include in-app recommendation systems in which users may promote your app to family members or friends in exchange for a bonus or benefit.

Embrace practices that help developers thrive in a remote world

Prior to the pandemic, remote work was not the primary work culture. Today, it is the new normal, and statistics overwhelmingly favor remote work continuing post-pandemic. For example, 83% of software engineers want to continue remote or hybrid work options post-pandemic. In addition, for most employees looking for new jobs or changing careers, having the option to work remotely is a top priority.

This means that for companies to continue to thrive and be productive, they need to adopt practices that will help their teams thrive and be effective as well. This will entail:

  • Investing in tools like G Suite, Zoom, Slack, etc., that helps bridge the distance that characterizes remote teams and fosters collaboration.
  • Adopting the culture of over-communication and over-documentation to minimize misunderstandings.
  • Moving from quantifying results based on how many hours developers have clocked in, to subjectively gauging results based on the quality of work done, among other practices that help mobile developers excel in remote work.

Adopt Mobile DevOps best practices

Competition in the mobile app industry is fiercer than ever due to the effects of the pandemic. Every day, new apps in different categories are published to app stores; Appventurez estimates that approximately 3000 to 3700 apps are published to Google Play Store daily. Customers will most likely go on to the next competitor app if they find a problematic bug in your app and you fail to resolve it fast.

One of the key practices of Mobile DevOps is using a stable, mobile-focused CI/CD tool (such as Bitrise). This makes it possible for you to test code additions thoroughly to detect and fix bugs before they get to production. And yes, using a mobile-focused CI/CD tool is critical because the challenges of building for mobile are different, so you need a tool that caters to those unique challenges. A traditional CI/CD tool won't do.

These mobile changes are here to stay — so it's time to adapt

Despite the global crisis, the mobile application market continues to proliferate. Modern mobile solutions managed to help people address the new normal and will undoubtedly remain an integral part of the post-pandemic world. However, to sustain a competitive advantage now and in the future, mobile teams must change how they operate, too.

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