A Changing Landscape

Our company, Apptaura, turned 7 years old last month. That came with the realisation that we’re now actually pretty mature in the app development/design space – after all, we’ve been around for half as long as smartphones have existed. This has prompted some reminiscing about how the landscape has changed, and how quickly everything has moved. And ultimately how we’ve been able to stay around for so long…

In technical terms we’re as old as an iPhone 5S, or a Samsung Galaxy S4. Interestingly, at the time, those were two of the worst-received phones in their respective ranges, and in 2014 there was talk of Apple and Samsung losing their touch. Challengers such as HTC, Sony and LG were winning the awards and innovating in interesting ways.

Apple later responded with the iPhone 6 which had more or less the same software of the past 2 generations, but a redesign of the hardware. Despite apps not quite fitting the resized screen (until recently, Apple’s development software hadn’t even allowed developers to design for screen sizes different to the iPhone 4), the design refresh was successful, and brought Apple back into the game. Likewise Samsung delivered the well-received Galaxy S5 and two years later the very well-received Galaxy S7, and has consistently been the best-selling brand of smartphone in the world every year for the last 9 years. And Apple has retained a worldwide market share of around 15% since 2015.

From the old to the new

In 2014 we had enquiries for writing BlackBerry apps and Windows Mobile apps. BlackBerry was clearly on the way out: a downfall of their own architecting, through obstinate refusal to innovate. But Microsoft’s Windows Mobile was a relatively well-received operating system, and had particularly been picked up in the enterprise world where large businesses wanted something which duplicated the locked-down nature of the iPhone but not its price. Analysts asked whether Microsoft’s entry to the market was too late for them to establish a foothold since by then, the market was strongly Android & iOS. Well, yes, it turned out: it was too late. We never did write a Windows Mobile app in the end, despite all the training that went into developing that skillset.
Not that such skills last long anyway.

What is particularly illuminating for me is that we no longer use any of the languages which formed our core skillset in 2014. Android apps were written in Java which has now been replaced by Kotlin. IOS apps were written in Objective-C – a dumpster fire of a language which made it all but impossible to write good, stable software – which has now been replaced by the infinitely better Swift. And we build web apps now in Angular, which didn’t exist at all back then.

I absolutely attribute our success to the team’s ability to regularly pick up new skills, and for us to have been able to pivot when needed. This fast pace isn’t powered by wholesale changes once or twice in a lifetime: it’s lots of regular small jumps. Practically every project we do involves something completely new, and that’s why the skill I most value in a developer is the ability to learn quickly. Ultimately these new technologies have allowed us to produce apps with more features, better stability and in less time. Without good forward momentum we would have become irrelevant by now.

Conclusion

All of which leads me to think: what will the next 7 years hold? I foresee browser technology growing in popularity, eventually being strong enough to replace native apps. Traditional operating systems such as Windows and macOS will largely become irrelevant, since it won’t matter what platform you have, as long as it has a modern browser. This is borne out by the fact that for the first time last year, Chromebooks outsold MacBooks. Chromebooks, obviously, live in the browser.