Create superior mobile experiences from customers’ context, and figure out ways to lower development costs even as releases occur more quickly. Those complex requirements are two of the main takeaways in a new report on mobile application development from Forrester Research

Entitled "The Future of Mobile Application Development," the report notes some of the forces influencing modern software creation for mobile devices. These include multichannel clients, elastic infrastructure, flexible licensing and feedback from customers, to name a few considerations.

Systems of Systems

But it’s not only development for mobile devices. The report points out that “the future of mobile app development is more than just adapting to smaller screens, different programming languages, and new operating systems.”

Instead, creating mobile apps is part of a “new age of application development” that delivers not just apps, but “systems of engagement” and connects them with other systems, including systems of operation (e.g., carrier networks, industrial equipment, controls, cars) and systems of record (e.g., CRM, portals, databases and enterprise content management systems).

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Part and parcel of this interconnectedness is the report’s recommendation that companies recognize they do not need a mobile strategy, but an omnichannel strategy. Netflix customers, for instance, expect access to the same content, recommendations and overall user experience regardless of the device they use.

Mix-and-Match

Fixed infrastructure used to be a major consideration of developers, but now elastic infrastructure is the norm. Based in the cloud, it means companies buy scale when they need it, and, the report points out, is the reason Instagram could readily add a million new customers in 12 hours when it launched its new Android app in 2012.

Flexibility also means that modern developers, who need to innovate quickly, are perfectly happy to utilize components from an open source project, third party web services or application frameworks.

From the other point of view -- the outside developer looking to integrate with your app -- APIs accomplish a similar componentization of apps that extends value and functionality. This in turn means developers need to carefully consider security, authorization processes and real-time management of data as they expose their apps’ data and services.

This kind of mix-and-match-and-code approach can be complex, but it can also be fast and relatively inexpensive -- except, of course, for the additional expenses added by multiple platforms and form factors. But there are also savings from invaluable customer feedback, without the months previously required for reports from middle management and lists of future requirements. Instead, real-time rating systems and in-app analytics now can guide development cycles.

Context Is King

These “dramatic” differences, the report said, lead to modern applications that “arrive faster, scale up and down as needed, and create value quicker than traditional applications.” This approach leads to a formula for evaluating a mobile service -- the benefits must outweigh the inhibitors of adoption, and services must be “immediate, simple, and contextual.”

In this report and others across the field of user experience, context is becoming the key definer. The user’s location, other functions to which the app can add value, the data showing choices that the customer has shared, the implied feelings of the user -- these and other contextual indicators are increasingly important and increasingly expected to be part of the overall experience.

The Future of Mobile Application Development is insightful and understandable in its high level statements, but made clear by references to what’s happening on the ground. For example, the trends: high-end features will become commonplace, new sensors will provide more environmental information, and motion, touch and voice will redefine the user interface.

It used to be that “content is king,” but now it’s context, and developers have become context warriors.