App stores are crammed with any number of crimes against code, yet mobile apps have never been more essential for businesses looking to connect with their customers. For anyone building or refreshing their mobile offering today, it's a real fight to both build an unmissable app, and persuade consumers to find a place for it on their software-laden phones.
So how can engineering leaders put in place the right structures and teams to ensure they deliver apps that consumers want? And which technologies should be front of mind during development in the future?
This month, we brought engineering leaders together for a roundtable to share their experiences with development and discuss future directions for mobile engineering. Here are their top recommendations for making great mobile apps.
1. Do you put all your devs in one basket?
If you're looking to grow a team, keeping all staff all in one place can certainly help reduce the management overhead. But for those working with remote teams, getting all staff to sign up to a single architecture and common goals can help keep everyone on the same page, even when they're not in the same office. Either way, engineering leads need to make sure that even when teams are branched, they still remain integrated - it'll help keep the build process on track.
2. Should you let the teams decide?
Which methodology should you get your team to follow – agile, scrum, kanban, something else entirely? If you're unsure, just let the team decide - they know the work inside out, so they'll be best placed to know how to manage their project.
3. Is rotation a good thing?
While keeping teams together in the long term is an easy way to build up trust and rapport between staff, it might not ultimately be in the company's best interest. If a developer wants to try working with a different team - or the whole team wants to work on a different product area - it's a wise idea to let them. By helping them achieve their career goals, you'll likely increase retention.
4. How do you deal with issues of ownership?
If developing one feature will have a knock-on effect on another, how do you keep both teams happy? You can either make sure that one team knows it has ultimate ownership of the feature and is responsible for overseeing and approving any changes the other makes. Or, you can set up temporary teams, drawing experts from all the features that will be affected, to work on the changes together. That way, it can help build a consensus that cuts across all teams, regardless of which feature they're working on.
5. Can we expect more hardware fragmentation?
A decade ago, many devices began to coalesce into one: the smartphone. Now, app developers should get ready for the reverse to happen, as different functions move onto different form factors – wearables, peripherals, smart home kit, and more. Devs need to go back to the future, and prepare for an increasingly multi-device future.
6. Is personalisation king?
While app and web developers alike have long sought to make their software more personalised, in the coming years consumers are not only going to expect products that know who they are, but also know what, when, and how they want it too. Devs need to prepare for even greater customisation: knowing exactly where to send a product depending on the time of day and the user's whereabouts at the time, without having to ask the user first, for example.
7. The UI is dead; long live the UI
Thanks to the advent of augmented reality and voice control, devs need to be aware that the nature of the UI is changing – tapping a screen won't be going away any time soon, but touch is going to be just one UI among many. Looking further ahead, apps will need to enable invisible UIs - where a customer's need is met without them needing to interact with a device at all. In the same way that drivers can have their phone unlock their car automatically when they approach it, without having to push a button or speak a command, app development will need to prioritise interaction-free services in the future.
8. AR is fun, but is AI the future?
While AR looks great and is entertaining to use, the ideal form factor for AR and VR hasn't been found yet, and more work needs to be done. Thanks to the growing computational power of smartphones and greater bandwidth that the next generation of mobile connectivity will bring, the time when app developers can put artificial intelligence in everyone's pocket isn't too far away.
9. Get ready for the next paradigm shift.
Change is the one constant of technology: from client-server, to web, to mobile, and onto mobile apps, tech has never been shy of reinventing itself. Engineering leaders feel the time is ripe for the next paradigm shift to arise in mobile, as software innovation tails off. There's no agreement on what that next paradigm will be, but there's a real feeling of anticipation among engineering leads. The fourth industrial revolution is on its way.
With special thanks to Ian Kershaw, Group Mobile Engineering Director, PhotoBox Group, who facilitated the event.
What our attendees had to say:
"Excellent form to discuss current working practices and future industry trends with industry leaders and peers"
"Fantastic opportunity to meet leaders in mobile"
"Top conversations and fantastic to hear great leaders talk about industry challenge"