Mobile apps and gaming are now big business and broadly mainstream. With the adoption rate of smart phones reaching a saturation point among the population, everyone from little Timmy to Grandma can enjoy the wonders of mobile apps and games.
This broad level of acceptance, cross-demographic appeal and high per-user revenue from free-to-use games and apps is kickstarting this year’s mobile trends. With new attractive methods for developers and designers cropping up, mobile creators are hoping to capture users beyond their traditional target audiences in 2015.
1. Everything everywhere
Threes!, a puzzle game for Xbox One that was released initially on iOS before being developed for Android and Xbox.
With app discovery becoming even more challenging and costly, it’s crucial for app developers to reach as many users through as many different avenues as possible. As a result of this, over the last few years we have been seeing significant adoption of excellent cross-platform development such as cocos2DX, Marmalade and Unity.
This mobile trend is expected to continue throughout 2015, which will result in a significant downturn in the number of natively developed apps for a specific platform. Developers will seek to spread their risk and maximize their reach.
As apps are increasingly developed for cross-platform uses, designers need to be aware that they are no longer designing for a particular platform’s style. Gone are the days of iPhone or Android-specific mobile designs, as developers seek to reduce their risk by developing apps non-natively.
2. A virtual reality
Google Cardboard allows users to use their mobile phone in conjunction with a physical ocular device to take the viewer to a virtual world.
Coming out of this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is the expectation is that virtual reality (often called “VR”) will be the next big tech boom. In an overcrowded mobile marketplace, developers will increasingly explore the potential of this emerging technology — either with novel new ways to experience their existing app content or with games and apps designed specifically for use in VR.
2015 is the expected launch year for Oculus Rift and likely Sony’s project Morpheus, both virtual reality headsets. Those who don’t want to take the leap and spend hundreds of dollars on a fancy headset can turn to more cost-effective DIY solutions. Google Cardboard, for example, uses your mobile phone and a cardboard headset to create this visual phenomenon while keeping costs low.
As virtual reality becomes the reality of mobile apps, mobile app designs will increasingly trend towards the illusion of a fully-formed 3D world. These apps could function as training for young drivers, surgeons and firefighters – or create new leaps in mobile gaming.
Designers will need to consider the specific implications of such content, including the technical aspects of designing for apps that use ocular rendering techniques to create the final visual picture and greater depth they’ll need to bring to their projects.
3. Keep games simple, stupid
@minigamejams’ own design for quick-release mobile game Ratageddon
Towards the latter half of 2014, we began to see success stories from small developers releasing super minimal, somewhat experimental games. These games focus purely on a single, easy-to-learn gameplay mechanic with very little to nonexistent monetization or extraneous features on launch.
Designed as a way to test the waters for new ideas as quickly and cheaply as possible, they offer a rapid and unobstructed experience to appease gamers short on time and jaded from so-called “freemium” games with aggressive advertisements. Simultaneously, these games also remove the developmental burden of integrating heavier features from the start. They can therefore be conceived, built and released with very little cost or risk. If they stick and users respond well to the bare-bones gameplay experience, the developer can retroactively add features and monetization methods in updates.
Towards the end of 2014, I adopted this approach myself via the twitter handle @minigamejams. I’ve teamed up with eager developers, musicians and artists from around the world — not only to rapidly create, but also to submit games to Apple for review. This can be done within 48 hours, which is a testament to how quickly you can create and test out a new idea.
This promises to become an increasingly popular mobile trend throughout 2015. In short, real users can help inform developers on whether or not the core concept is worth their time to flesh out into a grander, fully-realized title. Much like myself, designers should prepare for creating rapid-fire, simple productions as risk prevention becomes a development strategy in tandem with cross-platform releases.
4. Dynamic Perspective
Apps and games utilizing 3D interfaces via Dynamic Perspective will begin to appear during 2015. Debuted in June 2014 on the Amazon Fire, this technology uses multiple cameras within the device to track the user’s face and then adjusts the position of content, layered at varying depths, according to the movement of the user’s head. This creates the illusion that you are no longer simply looking at a flat screen, but rather looking through a window.
This new technology has the benefit of giving an instant WOW factor to your users as they navigate your app. That’s not to mention the obvious implications for mobile gaming, such as seeing around corners by actually looking around with your device. This innovation will bring a much greater sense of immersion and open new avenues for experiments with gameplay mechanics.
Gone are the days in which the edges of the phone are the edges of your creative canvas. It’s time for designers to think beyond the frame and consider the larger virtual world that your user will be immersed in.
5. More feel
Immersion leads in the way in haptic feedback technology (via Immersion)
Companies, such as Immersion, are leading the trend towards the accessibility of haptic feedback technologies (actual kinesthetic reactions to tablet touch) across devices. These APIs, with a wide array of customizable vibrations, give a different feel for different button presses – such as rapid pulsing vibrations for machine guns or a single, powerful vibration for when you are hit. Although only Android currently allows for this level of API access to the phone’s vibration settings, Apple is expected to open up the same options at some point in the future.
This, along with the possibility of other new tactile screen technologies in the near future, will put a halt on the concept of the screen being a flat, 2D space. Designers can no longer plan on the singular, glassy, feel of a screen and must consider adding textures – both visual and physical – into their design works.
Although this technology will create an additional need for tactile features, it will also increase the freedom allowed in other visual elements of design as the weight of ease-of-use shifts from mainly visual feedback to touch feedback. Imagine a smart phone where you can actually feel the difference between the “A” and “S” keys! This change could allow you, the designer, to focus your attention on other elements of the design – and allow the user to focus their visual energies elsewhere.
Noticed any other 2015 mobile trends? Add your observations in the comments below.
Mike Kirby is a top mobile designer from our 99designs community. He is featured in two previous blog posts on the Creative Edge: “MikeKirby finds his niche in app icon design” and “How I quit my day job and designed a top-tier mobile game“. Follow him on Twitter @mikeDkirby and check out his 99designs profile here.
Header image via Google Cardboard