The Mobile Apps of the Future: What Will Be Popular in 10 Years?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you’re like most smartphone owners, you probably spend a lot of time using apps. (And if you’re like most tech blog readers or writers, you probably also spend a lot of time reading about them, writing about them, or figuring out how to organize them on your phone’s home screen, too.) And while you likely have a well-curated handful of apps that you rely on to organize your schedule, stay connected to friends and family, and get through your day at work, you probably have no idea of which of those apps, if any, you’ll still be using a year or 10 from now.

Which leads us to an interesting question: what kinds of apps are we going to be downloading from our app stores of choice a decade from now? While we can think of a few one-off apps in response to some of the trends we love (and some we hate) today — like an app that will remove heavy-handed Instagram filters from photos you’ll eventually want to show your kids, or an app that enables you to summon your self-driving car, or call one in the same way you’d book an Uber now — it’s perhaps more interesting to look at the broader trends that are likely to shape the app that we’ll use daily in the not-so-distant future.

To do that, we’ve used a bit of imagination, and a lot of help from the projections of tech experts thinking about how technology will evolve over the next decade. According to a news release from Elon University, research conducted collaboratively by the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center compiled the opinions of 1,464 tech experts on how the Internet will evolve, and how that evolution will impact everyday life. Here are a few categories of apps that they and others imagine will become popular in the next 10 years.

New kinds of video apps will run on fast Internet connections

86% of the study’s respondents expect that the apps that are available 10 years from now will capitalize on the significant increases in bandwidth. Most notably, many respondents said that gigabit-speed Internet connections could enable an array of new video apps that take advantage of high-quality video, like telepresence apps and other apps that enable people to collaborate from a distance.

Joe Kochan, the chief operating officer for US Ignite, predicts that “Gigabit broadband connections will usher in the Internet of two-way, persistent, high-quality video to replace today’s Internet of images, text and recorded video. Interactions with doctors, educators, merchants and others will consist not of emailed forms or pre-recorded messages, but instead of instantaneous, life-like video interaction that requires no setup or configuration.” And Jason Hong, an associate professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, anticipates a variety of apps, including those that enable “far better telepresence, in terms of video quality, audio quality, robotic control, and time.”

Hong also predicts that tech advances made by 2025 will see “a few people starting to use life-logging technologies to capture everything in their lives (with some people choosing to share those),” and “more sensor data being continuously captured and stored, including those embedded in the city (for bridges and buildings), cars, smart phones, portable home medical devices, and toys.”

Augmented and virtual reality apps will take off

Study respondents predicted that augmented reality will extend people’s understanding of their real-life surroundings, while virtual reality will make gaming worlds and other simulated environments “compelling places to hang out.” David P. Collier-Brown, a system programmer and author, imagined the possibilities, such as, “Avatars to go to meetings for me in Texas, rather than me flying down. Bus tours of Istanbul on Saturday afternoon from the comfort of my living room. Playing a game of football with my cousin in Ulan Bator from the gym downtown.”

Tim Bray, an active participant in the IETF, said that he has “particular hope for advances in locative augmented-reality applications, for art, entertainment, tourism and other surprising things.” And Alison Alexander, a professor at the University of Georgia, predicts that “One killer app that could take off is a virtual reality environment. Forget reality, live in your selected world. Visit wherever and whenever.”

Apps will enable you to monitor yourself…

With the rise of health-tracking apps and devices already underway, it seems a safe bet that in ten years, we’ll be able to continuously monitor our health, checking in with an app to make sure that everything from our diets to our workout regimens to the levels of specific metrics or biomarkers are on track. And tech that enables you to monitor yourself could enable you to constantly share what you’re doing with the world. Study respondents predicted that apps will enable the always-on documentation of individuals’ everyday activity, even projecting that users will be able to take part in “full video lifestreaming.” Laurel Papworth, a social media educator, writes, “Lifestreaming from ultrasound to final illness (and beyond if we add intelligent bots to the life data) will be the killer app. The challenge going forward is to live a full life. No one will be able to sit around in their underwear watching TV if their lives are being streamed for current and future generations.”

Patrick Tucker, author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?, predicts that ” In the next 10 years, users will have access to a variety of apps that constantly collect and analyze data to output personalized predictions that will better enable users to avoid coercive marketing and learn more about themselves. Big data will shrink to become personalized data in app form as every individual user develops a much better understanding of how her behavior influences her rapidly-evolving future.”

Ryan Fuller, cofounder and chief executive of VoloMetrix, writes for Wired that the rise of the Internet of things has already enabled people to gain “unprecedented insights” into their daily behavior through self-quantification technologies. In the future, such technologies will enable us not only to better control our health, but to better manage our time. “The self-quantification trend will evolve beyond physical health to encompass all aspects of people’s daily lives—including time spent at work,” Fuller predicts. “Just as individual consumers have embraced wellness self-quantification data, including minutes spent moving and calories consumed, employees will embrace technologies, such as people analytics, at work to better inform individual and team performance trends.”

In the future, you’ll be able to use an app to find out how your workday breaks down: how much time you spend answering email, how often you collaborate with others, how long it takes you to walk to meetings, and how much time you spend chatting with coworkers. Such apps could use sensing technologies like near-field communications and micro transmitters to track your activities at the office.

… and enable you to track who’s monitoring you

Kevin Kelly, who helped launch Wired in 1993, said in an interview with John Brockman at Edge.org, “I believe that there’s no end to how much we can track each other—how far we’re going to self-track, how much we’re going to allow companies to track us—so I find it really difficult to believe that there’s going to be a limit to this, and to try to imagine this world in which we are being self-tracked and co-tracked and tracked by governments, and yet accepting of that, is really hard to imagine.” But he suggests that because we can’t stop the tracking enabled by the Internet and a wide array of different forms of technology, “maybe what we have to do is work with this tracking — try to bring symmetry or have areas where there’s no tracking in a temporary basis.”

While Kelly thinks that we can’t stop the ubiquity of tracking, both by governments and by corporations, users will demand transparency and accountability from groups that are tracking them. An app could keep you informed of who is tracking which parts of your activities and your communications, and even enable you to derive some benefits from that tracking. Kelly notes, “There should be co-benefits in the sense that if my data is being useful to others, then I should benefit from that. There should be mechanisms to try and make sure that the data that I am allowing to be tracked and that I am even self-tracking myself, when it’s beneficial that I partake in that value.” In Kelly’s estimation, it’s more productive to move forward with the reality that the Internet will lead to tracking than to try to stop it. “What’s not going to work is trying to prohibit this tracking, because that’s like trying to prohibit things from being copied. It’s not going to work.”

Victor Luckerson recently wrote for Time — in a story aptly titled “This Is How Tech Will Totally Change Our Lives by 2025″ — that a report from the Institute for the Future predicted that our personal data will continue to be shared, bought, and sold. But in the future, that process might occur in ways that bring more benefits to consumers. In the future, apps could enable you to selectively sell information about your shopping habits — online or when you’re in-store and being followed by sensors and beacons — or your health  and fitness activities to businesses like retailers or pharmaceutical companies.

Apps will also offer news ways to find and consume information

While some tech experts expect that the next decade will bring all kinds of advances in search apps, enabling us to more easily search for multimedia or to search the data and software stored across all of the devices we use, others think that you won’t even need to search to surface information that’s relevant to your activity exactly when you need it. Ed Lyell, a professor of business and economics and an early Internet policy consultant, predicted, “Just-in-time learning will continue to expand, permitting people of all ages to find the information they need when needed. It will permit the human mind to focus on creativity and critical thinking with known information being available as needed.”

Kevin Kelly thinks that longform content will also take on new forms, ones that we can’t quite imagine yet. “There’s great potential in there to have a new form for deeper understanding that’s not the kind of flat book, and it’s not the kind of linear TV show or video.”

Kelly thinks that a new form of consuming information will be “something else and, again, we’re going to be surprised right now, because we think that the choices are either TV (which doesn’t seem to work for conveying information), movies (which don’t seem to be that much better), books (which had a great reputation in the past and are no longer so popular). We are going to make something other.” He predicts that we’ll be able to use technology to “rearrange how we present deep ideas and have people spend the time necessary to master them. I don’t think it’s a matter of ‘Either it’s going to be books or video,’ neither of those are really going to work.”

(As long as we’re still using apps in 10 years)

Of course, some tech experts are skeptical that we’ll even be using native mobile apps at all by the time a decade has passed. Stephen Abram, a self-employed consultant with Lighthouse Consulting, predicts, “The year 2025 will be a much different place and ‘apps’ actually will have gone by the wayside as the need to bind them disappears into the social-cultural and workplace eco-system.” And Katie Derthick, a PhD candidate in human-centered design and engineering at the University of Washington, projects that ” Innovation will persist at the application scale for a while, but a backlash against technologizing everything, at the cost of time, health, relationships, social skills, spirituality, presence, attention, and cultural and class divides is coming. Finally, rather than apps, the innovation with technology will be at the device and environment level, meaning communication between devices (in ways that don’t require apps), in the places we live (first) and work (later).”

Some pose the question of whether notifications could replace apps as the medium through which we complete most of our interactions with the software and services we use on our devices. According to ReadWrite, Drupal founder Dries Buytaert thinks that while “The current Web is ‘pull-based,’ meaning we visit websites or download mobile applications,” the future of the web will be “‘push-based,’ meaning the Web will be coming to us.”

Buytaert predicts that “when this ‘Big Reverse’ is complete, the Web will disappear into the background much like our electricity or water supply.” Notifications — like the ones we get today from apps we’ve installed on our smartphones — could become the way we interact with services, social networks, and information. Still others argue that we may end up using responsive web apps instead of native apps in the future, opting to move our activities to the browser and simply navigating to specific URLs to easily accomplish tasks we’d otherwise need to find and install apps to complete.

Still others think that we won’t even be using the same sorts of personal devices we’re familiar with now in the future, turning, instead, to shareable devices or to devices that blur the boundaries between different purposes and device types. Mark Johnson, chief technology officer and vice president for architecture at MCNC, predicts, “We are approaching the post-bandwidth era where we are not constantly limited by the capabilities of our connections. We’ll expect to be able to access and control everything we own that uses electricity all the time from any location using a device we always have with us. We won’t think about ‘phones’ and ‘television’ as distinct things or even as services any more.”

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