Mobile is an area where upcoming trends are too obvious to ignore. By the end of 2013, there will be more smartphones and tablets in the world than PCs. The tablet in particular is expected to be the main enterprise-issued device in the future. The proliferation of mobile devices in established and emerging markets is pushing rapid and continuous evolution among independent software vendors, mobile application developers, mobile device manufacturers, OS designers, cloud vendors, training institutions and enterprise IT. Here are some of the challenges and opportunities that the Java mobile application trends of 2013 may bring to light.
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Mobile will be the main avenue for obtaining software
Calling applications a cute nickname like "apps" sometimes obfuscates the fact that many of today’s smartphone apps (hosted in the cloud or on a server rather than on the device) have greater capabilities than the enterprise software of 20 years ago. We're just beginning to see how popular the acquisition of software via app stores will become. The current levels of consumption are extremely volatile. In 2010, IDC forecasted the number of apps downloaded would reach 76.9 billion worldwide by 2014. We're guessing they’re busy revising that estimate way upward now. Gartner is pegging the estimated 2014 number at a whopping 132 billion downloads worldwide.
The enterprise is going to have to embrace a much broader array of software vendors. Sitting down with an enterprise-class vendor and hammering out a 50-page contract and license agreement will still happen occasionally, but many agreements will be "signed" at the click of a mobile button with no thought to the consequences. Businesses will have to pay special attention to licensing terms with this type of usage being the norm.
IT will become mobile mediators
IT obviously has its work cut out for it in offering support for mobile users in the enterprise setting. Even as cloud is taking some administrative burden off of IT, mobile will require a lot of additional work. This may include:
- Evaluating, aggregating and purchasing downloadable apps for enterprise use;
- Assisting users with app usage on a wide variety of platforms and devices;
- Creating, implementing, monitoring and enforcing policies for bring your own device (BYOD) mobile usage; and
- Securing enterprise data that may be exposed to mobile apps.
Mobile security threats have been harped on for a long time, but 2013 is likely to expose some huge holes that will finally be exploited with consequences that are severe enough to get the attention of enterprise. Godfrey Nolan, founder of RIIS and author of Decompiling Android, said the reality is pretty bleak. "Hackers have complete access to a developer's code because they can reverse-engineer it using some fairly simple decompilation tools. From a developer’s perspective, I don't think there are nearly enough people looking at mobile applications. Out of the 100 or so mobile applications we downloaded recently (to test for security), only 1 was well-protected. Everything else was leaking information all over the place, or had information available in plain text when the code was reverse-engineered."
Enterprise will make more forays into the mobile space
One of the ways enterprises will attempt to regain some control of their data in the mobile space is by creating their own apps. Big businesses (outside the ISV space) will also start rolling out more and more of their own apps directly to customers. We already see retailers at many local malls offering a downloadable app or a 3D barcode to customers can scan with a smartphone. Fast food restaurants are right behind with mobile apps that allow customers to place orders before they even get to the drive thru. Fast food apps have the added advantage of upselling sides and daily specials more effectively than an unenthusiastic and underpaid employee ever could.
Health care, travel and hospitality, logistics, energy, education, pharmaceuticals and many other industry verticals are going to escalate their app development for external users to unprecedented levels in 2013. It will become quickly apparent to "newbies" that the first app they make won't be very good. Improvement will need to be continuous -- based on feedback from mobile users.
One of the biggest challenges facing enterprises is the sheer variety of factors they must take into account during design, development and deployment. Roy Solomon, vice president of product management and co-founder of Southborough, Mass.-based uTest, revealed why deployment may prove to be one of the most persistent issues: "I believe that consolidation will be on the operating system level, like the stuff that Windows did recently. But I believe we will continue to see fragmentation problems across different devices." Since we already know that "write once, run everywhere" is a myth, developers are going to have to embrace the need for endless adjustments with each new device generation.
IT will resurge in importance
IT will have the opportunity to position itself in 2013 as the mastermind of big data and analytics. As mobile gains access to enterprise data, IT has the ability to use this wealth of information as a feedback mechanism to improve business processes. Smart IT departments will make this process look as mysterious as possible and become the gatekeepers holding the keys to the knowledge that business leaders are frothing at the mouths to obtain.
Of course, one huge problem facing enterprises in the coming year is that they need mobile development experts and they need big data experts. Both are likely to be in very short supply. In fact, some of the skills needed aren't even being taught yet because these areas of knowledge are so new. We don't yet know what we don't know -- and this will become more apparent during 2013. Who knows where our next generation of mobile experts will come from? Will it be India? China? One thing is for certain, employers will be willing to scour the globe looking for talent.