11 Things That Changed Mobile Development in 2014

A lot of things changed for mobile developers during the past year, here are eleven 2014 developments likely to have consequences extending well into the coming years:

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1. Apple released iOS 8

Apple rolled out the latest version of its mobile operating system this year. Nearly two-thirds of Apple devices are now running iOS 8, but that actually lags adoption of other recent releases of Apple’s mobile OS. It hasn’t helped that iOS 8 quickly garnered a reputation as buggy, especially relative to earlier versions. But slower adoption may also have something to do with iOS 8’s feature set, which favors under-the-hood changes of long-range interest to developers more than the types of front-end makeovers most users go gaga for. In fact, one developer even described it as a “nerd release,” by way of explaining the relatively slow uptake. The bugs—even if they’re to be expected in any major software release—are real, though. In fact, Apple recently made the third beta of iOS 8.2 available to developers, which includes fixes for Messenger issues and other bugs.

2. Google released Android 5.0, aka “Lollipop”

Google, meanwhile, recently rolled out the full release of Android Lollipop, version 5.0 of the ubiquitous mobile OS. Its adoption has barely had time to register—and will also depend heavily on the update plans of Google’s various hardware partners, which means it will likely be more trickle than deluge. Lollipop features a significant UI overhaul and Google’s “Material design” language, intended to enable, among other things, a better way to develop applications that look and run well on any device or screen size. It’s also worth noting that Google recently made Play Services 6.1 available to all Android devices running version 2.3 or later.

Lollipop adoption is worth monitoring in 2015 given the historical fragmentation of Android versions, which creates special considerations for developers when it comes to monitoring, testing, and supporting apps.

3. The phablet wars commenced

Of course, operating systems need something to run on. Highlighting the usual bevy of new mobile devices that come out each year, Apple launched the giant iPhone 6 Plus this year, while Google introduced its enormous Nexus 6 and Samsung unveiled the humongous Galaxy Note 4, all underscoring the rise of the so-called “phablet”—smartphones with screen sizes approaching those of small tablets. Mobile developers and designers now have to account for a wide range of screen sizes and resolutions.

4. Microsoft closed Nokia deal

Microsoft officially completed its acquisition of mobile device giant Nokia this year, and began to outline its strategy for Nokia handsets going forward. Plans include trying to gain market share by going after the booming global market for lower-priced smartphones with the Lumia series, such as the Lumia 638, recently released in India as an affordable 4G LTE device. The Nokia purchase wasn’t without pain, including thousands of job cuts. Nor will it magically bridge the massive market share gap separating Windows from Android and iOS. But keep an eye on Windows 10 in 2015.

5. Swift hit the iOS apps scene

It wasn’t all about iOS and the iPhone for Apple in 2014. The company debuted Swift, a new programming language for iOS (and OS X) app development, promising faster, more efficient, and more secure code. New Relic mobile product manager Brittany Young noted earlier this year that Swift appeared to be a “clear leap forward” in terms of reducing “the amount of developer time and effort required to actually write and debug solutions.” (Check out our breakdown of how New Relic’s own mobile team uses Swift internally, including sample code showing how to instrument a Swift app.)

6. More change for crash reporting apps

Speaking of acquisitions (and Microsoft), 2014 was an eventful year in the mobile crash reporting and analytics space. Microsoft bought beta distribution and crash reporting HockeyApp, for instance, with plans to integrate it into its Visual Studio Online suite. How that will affect users is not yet clear. Earlier in the year, Apple acquired Burstly, maker of testing platform TestFlight—which coincided with the latter shutting down its Android support. And in 2013, Twitter bought Crashlytics.

7. Mobile payments move toward the mainstream

While accepting payments via smartphone or tablet has become commonplace with platforms like Square, making payments hasn’t yet gone mainstream. The debut of Apple Pay in 2014 could ultimately change that, with consumer giants like Walgreens and Whole Foods reporting strong interest, and many more retailers lining up to begin offering the service. Samsung, among others, is reportedly considering competing with Apple Pay via a partnership with a mobile payments startup.

8. Wearables: still getting started

There was plenty of discussion this year about wearable devices—and the potentially vast app ecosystem that could spring up around them. But while there was a lot to talk about, from Google’s release of Android Wear, its OS for wearables, to the official announcement of the Apple Watch, set to be released in “early 2015.” But it remains early days for wearables, especially if you exclude health and exercise trackers from companies like Nike, Fitbit, and others. High-end wearable devices like Google Glass remain expensive niche items.

We’ll learn soon what kind of impact the iWatch will have—Gartner has forecast that in 2015, half of all potential health and fitness-oriented “smart wristband” buyers will opt for a smartwatch instead.

9. Custom enterprise apps gain traction

2014 saw explosive growth in custom-built enterprise apps: According to the Good Technology Mobility Index Report, custom mobile app activations grew 731% between Q3 2013 and the same period in 2014. That made it the #1 enterprise app category in terms of new activations.

Although the iPad continues to be the tablet of choice among enterprise users, Good noted that Android tablets have made slow but steady gains, and now account for 11% of business users.

10. Android remains #1, but don’t cry for Apple

Smartphone makers were on pace to ship more than 1.3 billion new units worldwide by the end of 2014, according to IDC, and Android continues to dominate market share. That wasn’t necessarily good news for Samsung, though, because Android sales were driven largely by booming global demand for lower-priced devices. As a result, IDC notes that Chinese firms like Lenovo and Xiaomi are eating larger slices of the Android pie.

Save your tears when it comes to Apple, however: the iPhone is doing just fine, and financial analysts expect the fourth-quarter holiday shopping season to mean massive sales.

11. Mobile security: still mission-critical

Information security headlines were dominated by high-profile attacks like the Home Depot POS breach (and all-too-many similar retailer breaches) and, most recently, the Sony hack. But mobile security remains—or should remain—top of mind for developers and users alike. It is a top area of concern for businesses and their IT departments, though they’re concerned less about the devices themselves than the data on those devices. Nearly three-fourths of respondents in InformationWeek’s 2014 Mobile Security survey listed data loss as their top mobile security concern.

Beyond corporate security matters, new mobile threats appeared regularly, from the iCloud celebrity hack to the relatively recent WireLurker malware that can infect iOS devices or the related Masque Attack infection method, which replaces legitimate apps with malware.

Add it all up and 2014 was certainly an eventful year for mobile developers and app owners. It would be foolish to expect anything less in 2015.

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a wide variety of publications and companies. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek story, “Are You Too Old for IT?” He’s also a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards. View posts by .

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