Mobile development has never been easy. Unfortunately, it’s about to get much harder, according to a new Forrester report that predicts eight key changes for the mobile world in the coming year—shifts that will keep mobile developers on their toes.

Really on their toes, if Forrester has it right. The analyst firm suggests that while developers are still trying to master application development, the market is shifting:

… away from apps, and toward more contextually relevant micro-moments, delivered across families of devices, that are personalized to anticipate unique customer needs.

Just what are these “micro-moments,” and how should developers build for them?

Big Changes Coming In Mobile Development

Due to a variety of hardware and software ecosystems, not to mention intermittent Internet connectivity and awkward app delivery methods, mobile application development has remained a black art for many. Even so, a significant number of developers feel that they’ve come to terms with mobile app development.

See also: 50% Of App Developers Focus On Mobile, But They’re Not Writing The Next Flappy Bird

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” declare Forrester analysts Jeffrey Hammond and Michael Facemire.

In fact, they write, even as mobile developers struggle to catch up with the market, the market is about to change in eight significant ways in 2015:

  1. Standalone apps will lose their luster
  2. Hardware-driven innovation will enable new opportunities
  3. Mobile competition will shift to accessories and ecosystems
  4. Composition will dominate front-end mobile experiences
  5. The merger of physical and digital worlds accelerates
  6. Mobile context becomes high-def
  7. Service virtualization and API design tools will appear in every development toolbox
  8. Low-code platforms will move into the aggregation tier, but struggle to go mainstream

Underlying all of these is a need for faster iteration and more contextually relevant interaction with the customer. 

So, with regard to API design, for example, Forrester insists that “[a] well-defined API ecosystem is required for a front-end (mobile or otherwise) experience to be flexible enough to adapt to continuously changing customer demands.” That’s because without that flexibility, “firms are forced to maintain separate back-end architectures for each front-end channel, which is simply not scalable.”

See also: Why Mobile Developers Are Really Starting To Embrace The Enterprise

But the most surprising (and hard to stomach) change may well be the shift away from standalone app development as ground zero for mobile development.

Embracing Micro-Moments

One of the big challenges awaiting mobile app developers has been profound and proliferating fragmentation: fragmentation of devices, operating systems, screen sizes and more. While the problem is endemic to the mobile landscape, generally, it’s particularly scary for Android developers, as this OpenSignal visualization shows:

Source: OpenSignal (Android fragmentation, July 2013)

To a certain degree, developers have adapted to fragmentation by ignoring it. Rather than ensuring their app will work on every device, they’ve optimized for the majority of the market.

That approach may no longer work.

Or, rather, a pristine app experience may no longer be the right target, according to Forrester. Micro-moments are, as Hammond notes in a separate blog post:

Instead of customers intentionally using apps a few times a day, developers need to think about how they engage customers in 5-10 second interactions many times a day. As a result, development focus shifts to favor notifications, widgets, and cross-device interactions, all of which are better supported in iOS 8 with new APIs. In a sense, the golden age of the self contained app is over, but developers still need to adjust.

Previously this would have been impossible for developers, but Apple, Google and other platform vendors are opening up access to platform services as well as device sensors. According to the report:

Micro-moments are presented through platform features like Google Now and iOS8 app extensions. These provide APIs so that developers can inject contextually relevant information into platform mobile services or aggregation apps like HomeKit and HealthKit. Additionally, actionable notifications, available since the 4.0 Android release and now in iOS 8, will move to the forefront of developers’ attention as a way to proactively grab a customer’s attention with contextually relevant data.

Rather than a top-down approach, in other words, Apple and Google are finally allowing development partners to play a bigger role in their respective ecosystems. 

This is great news for developers and the customers they serve. It’s also really hard, because it requires more than a Field of Dreams “if we build the app they will come” approach.

Getting To Know You

In fact, the experience is no longer really about the app at all. It’s about the analytics that inform interaction:

Micro-moments require a deep understanding of what a customer wants, and how and where they want that critical information delivered. They are informed by aggregated local, historic, and operational context which requires real-time data integration with internal and third-party data. 

Forrester adds the obvious addendum: “Teams that have already invested in comprehensive APIs will be well positioned to support micro-moments, but others will struggle to adapt.”

As the digital and physical worlds blend in meaningful ways, developers must think hard about how to take advantage of micro-moments to take advantage of what’s happening in the physical world (a particular location, for example), and surface the right digital content at precisely the right time.

Easy? No. Essential? Absolutely.

Lead photo by Matthew Wilkinson