Mobile App trends to Watch in 2020 and Beyond

By Brent Harrison, Vice President, Product & Technology, Expedia Group [NASDAQ: EXPE]

Brent Harrison, Vice President, Product & Technology, Expedia Group [NASDAQ: EXPE]

One of the most exciting things about mobile applications can also be the most challenging: every day, something’s changing. Whether it’s an industry-wide shift from one trend to another, a platform update that changes everything, or a sudden shift in customer behavior, there’s never a dull moment as a mobile app developer.

That said, as mobile app technologies mature, my team at Expedia Group has gotten pretty good at spotting what’s coming next. So based on our latest research, customer feedback and our expectations, here are the six biggest trends we’re keeping an eye on in 2020.

1. Privacy is a priority

Consumers are becoming increasingly nervous about data privacy, and they’re demanding greater transparency as a result. As app developers, it’s our job to protect our customers’ privacy, which means figuring out how to create a frictionless experience without sacrificing safety. This should go without saying, but don’t cut corners when it comes to data security. We are starting to see leading consumer brands question the value of 3rd-party social sign-ins. They may make it easy for users to sign-up and sign-in, but are the privacy implications worth it? At minimum, make your privacy policy easy to find and understand, and only ask for the permissions you really need. Your customers will thank you for it.

2. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have finally made chatbots useful

Chatbots have finally found traction, moving from niche to mainstream. Powered by AI, newer chatbots are actually smart enough to be useful, and they're getting smarter all the time. We predict that by the end of 2020, many of these programs will have matured enough to consistently deliver high-quality, personalized experiences. They are a natural fit for simple customer service tasks, as they can answer questions quickly to reduce both customer wait time and customer service costs at scale. But don’t eliminate your human customer service reps —in fact, you might want to give them a raise! Because by delegating the rote work to chatbots, real live humans can spend their time on escalations and complex problems that need creative thinking and a personal touch.

3. Voice technology is taking shape

Until now, marketers have been guessing as to what consumers want from their voice assistants. But as the technology matures, we’re seeing consumers relying less on standalone devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home and moving toward assistants with cross-device integration like Siri. What does that mean for you? Customers want to be able to use your voice skill on the move, so make sure it’s just as useful on their smartphones and watches as it is on the device sitting on their kitchen counter. And stick to what it does best: simple assistant-like tools, like the Siri calendar event suggestions (which my team recently implemented on the Expedia iOS app). People still aren’t comfortable making complex, big-ticket purchases such as travel by voice, so we don’t expect it to become the future of e-commerce anytime soon.

4. So is augmented reality (AR)

No longer a gimmick, AR is finally moving into a phase of usefulness. Developers are finding helpful ways to integrate AR into their mobile apps to solve actual customer needs, like taking virtual measurements (Apple Measure) or performing image-based searches (Google Lens). Not coincidentally, new AR developer platforms like Apple’s ARKit, Google's ARCore, and Facebook’s AR Studio are making AR much more powerful and easier to implement. Right now not all phones have the processing power to handle AR, but that number gets smaller every year. So while you don’t necessarily need to add AR components to your app immediately, don’t dismiss the technology. You might find there’s finally a good reason to implement it.

5. Think globally

If you market your app internationally, it’s more important than ever to take into account cultural differences and expectations wherever your app is used. As a travel brand, this is something we have to think about a lot. The Expedia App, for example, leverages the Japanese messaging platform Line overseas because our customers in Japan and Thailand expect it. Similarly, our Korean customers strongly prefer local alternative Naver to Google. Invest in local research to find out what your international customers expect from a mobile app and adjust accordingly, or you risk your app being ignored. Not convinced? Read up on the Super App trend emerging in Asia for a look at how app expectations are diverging around the world.

6. Make it easy to pay

While countries like China and India have already fully embraced mCommerce, the US is still playing catch-up. But integrated mobile payment systems like Apple Pay are going to start playing a much bigger role here, too. The problem is that people want payment to be easy, so it’s not worth the effort for most consumers to check which mobile payment system, if any, a retailer accepts. But some companies have already made the switch with promising results. The order-ahead model embraced by Starbucks and Target has been a big success with customers, while Firehouse Subs lets diners skip the ID when they use Apple Pay, because the thumbprint needed to unlock the phone is enough. The bottom line: While it may not seem like a big deal yet, mCommerce is coming, so the time to embrace it is now.

Will mobile app technology continue to throw us curve balls? Sure, that’s what makes it fun. But if you keep these six trends in mind, your app should be in great shape for the new year.

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