Apple launched the iPhone a little over 10 years ago and dramatically changed the world.
People have embraced mobile apps in ways that few industry insiders anticipated.
Need proof? Over 57% of all digital media usage is through apps.
There are tons of mobile apps that can help increase your productivity.
As we wrote just a few years ago:
It’s no secret that mobile web use has skyrocketed over the past several years, with smartphone ownership in the U.S. nearly doubling between 2011 and 2015. And these smartphone users are all about the apps. The average smartphone user downloads 8.8 apps per month, spending 90% of their time on their phone in apps versus in mobile browsing windows. And there are a deluge of experts out there who insist that the development of brand-centric mobile applications is the future of marketing.
The ubiquity of smartphones, however, has also made it more difficult for a mobile app to stand out.
There are millions of apps in each of Apple’s App Store and the Android App Store. But, unfortunately, most mobile apps are used only once.
The design of a mobile app is one of the biggest factors in whether people will use, and importantly, continue to use, a mobile app.
A poor, disorganized, low quality mobile app design will turn people off. A strong, clean user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) will typically find loyal user/customers. For more on UX and UI, we recommend you read 6 Ways User interface and User Experience Design Can Help Your Business.
This is the reason why, for example, Snapchat has recently redesigned its own popular mobile app.
App design has evolved over the years as people’s familiarity and comfort level with smartphones has increased. We’re now at the point where companies are confident enough in consumers to start tossing out long-held conventions (like physical home buttons) and bring in a host of new, innovative interactions.
App design has a visual component, and that part is most certainly influenced by trends and fads.
That said, apps are, for the most part, meant to be used and not just viewed. That means that mobile app trends are a little different than the other areas we’ve looked at, like package design, book covers, web design, or logos.
Apps may need to look good, but even a beautiful app with terrible usability is bound to fail, and the app trends we’re tracking for 2018 reflect that pragmatism.
This year may have its share of visual design trends, but as always, features and functionality play a major role. After all, it’s possible today to turn your phone into a high-powered mobile office for your business.
If there’s one overarching trend we expect to dominate 2018, it’s that the user will rule.
Companies are focusing more of their efforts on creating experiences that connect with people through great functionality, easy-to-use interfaces, and “your needs first” prioritization.
Here are the important mobile app trends we expect to see in 2018.
Your voice is your passport
If there was one technology trend that blew up in 2017, it was voice. Amazon’s suite of voice-controlled Echo devices had a huge Christmas season:
The company says it was a “record holiday season” for Amazon device sales, and that “millions more devices” were purchased worldwide this year than during the 2016 holiday season. On its website, the $50 (currently $30) Amazon Echo Dot was the best-selling product sitewide, across any category. Several Echo products, including the Echo Spot, Echo Buttons, and Echo Dot, sold out completely.
One of Amazon’s smartest moves was to make their voice assistant Alexa easy to add to 3rd party apps and hardware.
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2018 was packed with devices that had Alexa built-in, from fridges and light switches to very odd choices like showers and sink faucets.
Google also made a huge push into voice with their Google Assistant. The company followed Amazon’s lead and made Google Assistant easy to integrate. Third-party companies have taken notice.
With all of the focus on voice as the user interface, developers have started making voice recognition and control a big part of their apps.
Need some examples?
You can now use Alexa to learn a new language via the buusuu app. You can hear your email read back to you vis email app Astro’s Alexa integration, and send quick responses, too. Stalwart PVR company TiVo now lets you control your TiVo via Alexa and Google Assistant. And apps like Todoist, Evernote, and even electric car trailblazer Tesla now boast integration with iOS’s Siri.
These are just a few of the dozens of apps which have announced or plan to add voice integration into their apps.
In 2018, your voice will most definitely be heard.
We just emailed the info to you.
If your voice is going to (literally, in some cases) open doors in 2018, don’t worry if the rest of you feels left out. The use of body measurements and characteristics (best known as biometrics) is going to explode this year.
2017’s launch of Apple’s Face ID (via the iPhone X’s front-facing TrueDepth camera) opened the gates for what will undoubtedly become the widespread use of biometrics and body scanning in apps.
The technology has been around for a while, but as usual Apple’s implementation “just works,” and that makes the spread of biometrics a sure bet.
You couldn’t go far last year without seeing an ad or demo of the iPhone X’s “animoji.” It may be a fun and frivolous example of what biometrics can do, but the potential is huge.
Soon after it was released, companies quickly added support into their apps.
Popular online eyewear company Warby Parker made it easy to scan your face to find frames that fit just right.
Snapchat made their face filters work even better with TrueDepth support. And of course, any app that used Apple’s Touch ID feature for authentication now works with Face ID as well.
It’s still early days, but you can expect that as other mobile companies add similar face scanning support that app adoption of biometrics is going to grow.
2018 isn’t just going to be about your voice and your physical body.
User experience (UX) design will continue to play a significant role in 2018.
Many apps already adapt their content and offerings based on your location and surroundings, and this type of hyper-local information will continue to make app experiences more personalized (and personal).
Starbucks is an excellent example of a company that uses location and buying habits to make the app experience more personal.
Their app uses your location to notify you of nearby cafes, and the mobile ordering system keeps track of what you’ve ordered. The next time you get a caffeine craving, your favorite order is right there, easy to access.
Personalization also includes how we interact with and talk to our apps.
The use of chatbots was already a big trend in 2017, as we discussed in our look at how businesses could use chatbots to grow revenue.
By listening to a person’s likes and dislikes, chatbots can inform your marketing strategy across all channels – from social media and email newsletters to print and radio ads.
Chatbots aren’t just clever apps that are fun to talk to. They are also valuable marketing tools that can help customers find relevant products or services. Customers demand fast, personalized service, and chatbots make answering these demands easier.
Making app experiences more personal taps into a universal need we have for our needs to be recognized.
We tend to get emotionally attached to our mobile devices, and knowing that the apps we use consider our particular requirements is essential.
Personalization also extends to how an app looks, and how it works.
Apps could start using our age to customize their fonts and layout to make seeing and navigation the interface easier. They could use the last time we used the app to optimize the information it provides, or give us customized shopping suggestions based on previous purchases.
Apps like Pinterest, ebay, and Etsy use how we navigate and browse their content to make the experience more relevant. Personalized content is already a huge trend in app design, and 2018 will be no exception.
It’s not all about features and functionality. App interfaces go through trends like any other visual design, and all signs for 2018 point to calm, clean designs that put content first.
Aesthetics will take a back seat to an app’s experiences and information.
We’re seeing a push towards minimalism and clarity as crucial app design players this year, no doubt in part due to the focus on personalization and content.
The release of Google’s Material Design and Apple’s continuing flattening of its Human Interface Guidelines had a huge effect on mobile design. Both systems emphasize a content-first, clean design approach, and app designers have taken note.
Apps are reducing the number of colors in their designs and making clear, prominent typography a priority.
Holistic design that focuses on user goals was already an important part of 2017’s trends, and this will continue in 2018.
New ways to navigate
As part of the ongoing trend to emphasize usability and user experience over aesthetics, the way we move around apps is also changing.
Companies are starting to reevaluate how they structure their apps. With the average screen size of phones growing every year, the importance of creating apps with easy-to-reach navigation and controls becomes more critical.
People often use their mobile phones in busy, distraction-filled environments.
Respected mobile designer Luke Wroblewski recommends designing for “one thumb, one eyeball” as a way to accommodate this constraint.
Another best practice is also thumb-related. The “thumb zone,” coined by Steven Hoober, is the area on a mobile phone’s screen that is easy to access with your thumb.
Many designers have migrated the navigation of their apps from other places on the screen into the thumb zone as a way of making it easier to access.
You can expect the thumb zone, and one thumb, one eyeball to play a big role in app design this year.
But it’s not just about your thumb. Mobile phone design has moved towards “bezel-less screens,” extending the size of their phone’s screens right to the edge of the phone’s body.
Wired magazine looked at this trend in late 2017:
Either way, the bezel—the band of material that separates your phone’s screen from its body—has all but disappeared in the past few years. Look at almost any flagship phone today, and you’ll find a near-borderless infinity screen that stretches from edge to edge.
Apple’s new iPhone X has one of these screens. So does Samsung’s Galaxy 8, Xaomi’s followup to last year’s Mi Mix, and the new Essential phone. The disappearing bezel is a bonafide trend, and it’s about more than just aesthetics.
This trend is prompting new ways to navigate and new interactions with phones, with Apple’s iPhone X leading the charge.
With the X’s elimination of the iPhone’s physical home button, Apple has added new finger gestures and touch actions to iOS.
It’s inevitable that phones running Google’s Android operating system will soon follow suit.
These changes herald a dramatic shift in how apps present their navigation, and as designers adapt to the new screens and new gestures, you can bet apps will reflect this change as well.
AR / VR
I think AR is big and profound … This is one of those huge things that we’ll look back at and marvel at the start of it. I think customers are going to see it in a variety of ways and it feels great to get [AR] going at a level that can get all of the developers behind it.
The jury’s still out whether Apple’s push into augmented reality, a marquee feature of iOS 11, will be as big as Cook thinks it will be.
Companies are already adopting the feature in their apps, however, and you’ll see these become even more prevalent in 2018.
“Build-it-yourself” furniture giant IKEA was one of the first when they added AR to their catalog app. Their newest app gives customers the ability to “place before you virtually place furniture in their homes (or wherever they might want that Poäng chair).
AR’s fancier cousin VR (virtual reality) is also set to have a big year.
Unlike AR, VR doesn’t bring the digital world into the real world; it puts you into the digital world.
Also known as “immersive reality,” VR — through the use of a particular headset and glasses — makes it feel like you’re actually inside of a game or digital experience.
Facebook bet on VR’s future in a very expensive way when it bought virtual reality company Oculus for two billion dollars in 2014.
Another high profile launch in 2017, the massively hyped Magic Leap hybrid AR/VR headset (which has already raised a staggering 1.8 billion dollars in funding), proves that the appetite for these new technologies is just getting started.
Let’s move on from the hyped to something small, yet significant: microinteractions.
Microinteractions are, as defined by designer Dan Saffer in his eponymous book:
… contained product moments that revolve around a single use case—they have one main task. Every time you change a setting, sync your data or devices, set the alarm, pick a password, log in, set a status message, or favorite or “like” something, you are engaging with a microinteraction.
Saffer explains why microinteractions are important:
Even though we’re surrounded by microinteractions every day, we don’t usually notice them until something goes wrong. But microinteractions are, despite their small size and near-invisibility, incredibly important. The difference between a product you love and a product you tolerate is often the microinteractions you have with it.
The idea that microinteractions are near-invisible but incredibly important is a key reason why app designers have given these small moments of usefulness more and more attention.
Microinteractions are, to paraphrase the saying, “the details in the design.”
The growing focus on microinteractions mirrors the trend for apps to emphasize customer needs.
Designers are optimizing apps around making the experience fun, frictionless, and delightful, and creating these small but potent interactions is a huge part of that process.
We expect 2018 will maintain the momentum that microinteractions have seen in the past year.
How can you integrate microinteractions into your app? Find an experienced UI/UX Designer.
Take a high-level look at how your app works.
List the ways you either hope people will use your app, or how they do right now.
Find areas where you could add microinteractions, and once you’ve added them, test test test with real users and gather their feedback.
A few key things to remember:
- People appreciate a clever solution or interaction, but make sure it’s not too clever. The best interactions are ones the user doesn’t even notice.
- Make apps fast. Users expect quick responses from the apps they use, and this is especially true with microinteractions.
- Be human. The words you choose are often even more important than the design itself. Talk to customers in a clear and jargon-free voice. They’ll trust you more.
- Adding small animations (transitions, fades, bounces, etc.) is a great way to add visual feedback to an app, and yes, these are microinteractions.
The influence of apps in our day to day lives is impossible to ignore, so it’s important to stay on top of the trends that are coming our way.
Knowing how to make the most of the technology at our literal fingertips is the best way of keeping your business successful.
If your business has an app (or if you’ve thought about creating an app for your business) but aren’t sure of what your app can offer, keep these trends in mind.
You can use them as a jumping off point for determining what features to add or include in order to be most useful to your consumers.
Don’t forget these great trends moving forward:
- Content First,
- New ways to navigate,
- AR/VR, and
Once you have an idea of what your app should offer your customers, get started! Great mobile app design is a terrific way to get your company into your customers’ actual hands. So don’t wait – get planning!
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