The year 2020 surprised us with revolutionary at times changes to our lives - starting from semi-permanent home office for some, through the digital in general dominating every aspect of our daily routines. How will it impact 2021 and will the future year hold some technological peace? Read on to find out!
Peaceful stabilization on the horizon
While 2020 may be viewed as revolutionary in terms of the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced on us, we anticipate that 2021 will be the time when the existing technologies, tools and frameworks in software development crystalize and stabilize, rather than undergo revolutionary changes. At the same time, the courses set in 2020 will be maintained, as a number of processes such as digitalization and fast scaling of the pandemic-fostered solutions progressed rapidly and will help us live conveniently in a post-pandemic world.
As we will continue down the digital road, for this ride we prepared a subjective selection of the general technological tendencies worth noting and the most promising quality-oriented solutions specifically for the area of software development. It’s gonna be all about optimization, ease of use, and performance - definitely an exciting time ahead of us!
Table of contents:
From a bird’s eye view, the two tendencies that crystalize before the beginning of 2021 are, firstly, the trends most heavily impacted by the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and, secondly, those which due to intensifying conditions of the market and constantly developing technology have been keeping the software wheel running smoothly.
Among the noteworthy COVID-19-boosted tendencies for the upcoming time we can distinguish the predominant technicalization of our daily lives and continually increasing popularity of touchless forms of activity.
In many countries 2020 has seen an increased and faster-than-before turn to the digital across many branches - the public sector, food industry, retail commerce, to name just a few. In Poland municipalities and tax authorities enabled previously unavailable online services, restaurant business became a food delivery chain, not to mention that our shopping behaviour happens online more often.
In summary, industry branches which had not been masters of the digital before, started to transform their mode of operation to accommodate the changes in global economy caused by COVID-19, and those which had already been operating online before strengthened their online presence. According to the Digital Economy and Society Index (2020), all EU countries enhanced their digital performance in 2020, when it comes to factors such as: connectivity, human capital, Internet use, incorporation of digital technologies and digitalization of public services. The below graphic from Statista shows this trend split into industries:
Coronavirus impact on online traffic of selected industries worldwide as of October 2020, source: Statista
This faster digital transformation gives a huge boost to platforms for fast website development, enables quick creation of e-shops, presenting a number of business opportunities in the area of e-commerce but also other areas of technological development. As such, it underlies and strengthens the need for fast-performing applications, broadband Internet connection, high-performing websites, more functional software code and quality experience of the digital in general. In short, digital development triggers higher functional expectations for digital solutions and technologies.
In 2020 the danger of a viral infection made us avoid physical contact. It is dictated by the safety precautions we are all undertaking these days - social distancing, mouth-covering and reorganizing workspaces to accommodate these pro-health demands. In fact, the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic has driven us into a low-touch economy not only physically but also tech-wise. It is motivated by the fact that we are more prone to use technological solutions which limit social interaction. Lack of one of the prerequisites for human contact - which is touch - has for now become not a guarantee - but a foundation for survival. In this context, it’s worth noting that voice recognition technology is increasingly gaining popularity. According to the statistics cited by the Workshopper, by 2021 half of the search operations will be performed touchless (meaning that 50% of us will ditch the screen or a keyboard), giving way to a more widespread use of voice commands.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have for some time already been providing us with new developments in the area of simulated life-like experiences - from entertainment, through gaming, product presentations and architectural design. At the time of so drastically minimized social activity these developments come to the fore. Due to a lack of human contact and increased out-of-home activity, we increasingly look to solutions which imitate human interaction, provide compensatory entertainment and facilitate remote education.
We have seen interesting developments in VR in the areas of: journalism (by means of which the New York Times readers can experience the far-away Antarctica in VR), education - like these innovative product training sessions where participants can engage in an injury-safe technical product training by means of VR and even sports - just check these VR fitness games. This market segment will, no doubt, be developing further, providing us with cutting-edge multi-sensory technology for entertainment, training, manufacturing and many more applications.
What’s even more important, VR or AR is often the only solution for industries which have so far required human contact or mobility such as: tourism, sports, culture and entertainment. While they will not replace real-life experiences, they will surely become more popular among the general public.
Let’s take a look at the global VR and AR market predictions. According to the Statista (2020) analysis, in 4 years from now the global AR and VR market is projected to rise to the estimated 72.8 billion U.S. dollars, which is approximately 7 times higher than the reported level of 2020 (12 billion U.S. dollars, as reported by Statista).
Now let’s dig into some software-specific insights and industry updates! We have selected for you the top modern solutions which, driven by the high dynamics of the general technological progress and market competitiveness, generate further movement needed for growth in app development specifically.
Cloud computing has been developing for a few years now. According to the Solved Magazine the very phrase “cloud computing” dates back to the 1990s. Market research and estimates by Statista and Canalys even before the pandemic showed a constant upward tendency in the global cloud infrastructure revenue from 2016 (Q1) to 2019 (Q2).
A more up-to-date (2020) analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers indicates that in the first quarter of 2020 the spending on cloud computing rose by as much as 37%. Moreover, according to the same source, the upward tendency in spending is predicted to stay in the future due to the demand for dependable and adjustable remote tech services. The popularity of cloud services will continue to increase, as will the scope of cloud services used by companies. Today’s fierce global competition between companies and easy accessibility of products and services for online purchase have made many clients eager to expect instantaneous and convenient solutions across a variety of markets, not only retail commerce. Cloud computing is the IT market’s response to such trends for on-demand products and services.
Cloud computing is an alternative to using our own infrastructure for computing services. In this service model, clients use outsource Internet servers-based computer system resources supplied by cloud vendors. Cloud computing may include a variety of products and services - not only storage in the cloud but also apps, CPU power and AI.
What are the benefits of using the cloud? Scalability, safety and service-specificity are the main reasons why cloud computing exceeds alternative solutions on the market. First of all, from the client’s perspective scalability of cloud storage services means that cloud services are, in fact, ready-to-use services which don’t require any additional configuration on the client side - it’s the service provider that is in charge of the complete cloud configuration and updating. This means more optimized services and more time for core business for the client. Secondly, our cloud-stored data is protected in a better way, as the services we use in the cloud are need- and service-specific, thus excluding the unnecessary danger of third party access to other non service-specific data locations.
One of the third-party tools used extensively due to the popularity of cloud computing is Terraform which is an open-source software tool that enables storing infrastructure as a code. As opposed to, for example, Cloud Formation, Terraform is a more universal solution which supports not only AWS but also GCP and Azure - and as such it is a competitive and well-updated solution on the market.
While there are many advantages of using Progressive Web Apps (PWA), we anticipate that they will grow in popularity in 2021, due to the possibility of omitting the fees for Google Play and App Store. Epic GAMES set a well-known precedent in this regard, successfully preventing the two major online marketplaces from making a profit on its products by placing them on the web. The app market has been monopolized by the App Store and Google Play which are the only digital marketplaces for developers of these digital solutions. Essentially, it boils down to the fact that if an app is not on Apple Store or Google Play, it’s invisible market-wise. Now applications can be also visible on the online market via PWA which, contrary to typical desktop solutions, require only adding an app to the home screen on a mobile phone. This alternative route to the customer entails a faster development process, omits the two monopoly sales platforms but, more importantly, it omits a costly distribution fee. Not to mention the lack of necessity to go via the virtual stores every time the digital product is installed. Intermediaries always prove costly and PWA proves a viable alternative both for the developer and customer.
The last years have seen strong development on the mobile market. According to EU statistics (2020), in 2019 60% of EU-based individuals aged 16-74 ordered or purchased products or services for private purposes via the Internet. When comparing website-based purchases to app purchases, doing our shopping via apps is presumably quicker, as typically we can complete such a transaction in 10 or so seconds. This is a customer-friendly perspective. What does the shop gain? Our precious data, of course, which may be worth even more than a single transaction itself in the prospect of future marketing gains.
In this context, it's no wonder that cross-platform solutions for mobile software development are getting more and more traction these days. They enable us to create and use apps comprehensively functional across a variety of environments - iOS and Android, which proves customer- and market-friendly. Not to mention that they save developers’ time needed to build separate supplementary versions for different environments. Due to these less time-consuming processes, companies save their budgets and shorten their time to market, which is especially significant for start-ups these days. To that end, we recommend employing platform-independent software frameworks such as Flutter or React Native.
In the mobile department, Flutter is particularly worth mentioning, as it keeps developing in a fast way and is powered by Google’s funding and resources aimed at its development and popularization. One of the well-known brands which used Flutter for app development is ING. How about a bonus for Flutter fans? Stay tuned for a special Flutter event on March 3rd, 2021!
We at Merixstudio are also Flutter fans - we use it extensively for app development - like in the Ginny app for booking parking spots - and actively participate in Flutter events to be up to date with all the news about this smashing framework!
Merixstudio team at Flutter Europe 2020
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) keep changing the world as we see it. These solutions are becoming more popular because it’s easier to implement them, given that more and more tools are being enhanced and developed to facilitate this process.
In the age of master data analysis and data mining, machine learning presents numberless opportunities for model-based predictions stemming from the AI analysis of the gathered data. From healthcare (e.g. devices for young asthmatics which use machine learning to diagnose asthma), through voice assistants (such as Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri), making our life easier everyday, to the entertainment industry (let us not forget about Netflix’s machine learning approach to VOD and the algorithms which essentially choose movies for us on a casual Friday night).
Why do we think there is no coming back and that AI, combined with increasingly more sophisticated machine learning, will continue to strongly shape our lives in the future? Because convenience counts and, as Yuval Noah Harari points out in his “21 lessons for the 21st century”, data is going to be the key resource in the 21st century:
In the 21st century (...) both land and machines will be overshadowed by data which will become the greatest asset (...).
Yuval Noah Harari (from: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century)
The development of AI and more sophisticated machine learning models in the near future, of course, holds some risks and challenges of societal nature, such as greater imposition on personal data privacy and the demand for more roomy cloud data storage solutions. However, with the new AI and ML developments in 2021 also come new business insights into customer preferences, more advanced digital functionalities, and the limitless potential for personalization of services. As a result, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning give us a greater competitive advantage in business.
Now let’s move to more specific technologies that will gain in popularity in 2021.
Frontend-wise, we focus on solutions which will support fast performance in the long term, at the same time building our online position in terms of SERPs and enabling our visibility to recipients. We put strong emphasis on the solutions which continue to reinvent the concept of app performance and web-based availability.
In the frontend department, while we don’t anticipate any significant changes in the horizon of software libraries and frameworks, most of them will increasingly use server-side rendering (SSR) where it’s applicable - mainly for SEO and website performance reasons. SSR’s popularity, which continues to date, is built on the fact that, compared to client-side rendering, it optimizes web performance by significantly accelerating loading and rendering content viewable even before it becomes interactable. As such SSR makes SEO as well as social media sharing operations easier. It is possible thanks to SSR producing a full HTML file originating from the server (not browser) upon initial page request.
In an opposing model - client-side rendering - the initial request returns a basic HTML and the first website generation is on the browser side. The below graphics illustrate this phenomenon, showing simplistically the major differences between SSR and CSR (client-side rendering).
Server-side rendering, source: Medium
Client-side rendering, source: Medium
Better performance is not only more viewer-friendly but also scores us a number of points in SERP rankings. Among the frameworks which use SSR by way of employing React-based external libraries are Gatsby.js and Next.js.
The React community will be pleased to know that React will now also have a built-in side-server rendering functionality.
- Code readability,
- Code quality,
- Long-term code scalability,
- Preventing technological debt,
- Code error prevention.
Senior programmers, operating within the realm of code readability and quality will definitely appreciate the usefulness of TS, as its main role lies in preventing code errors which come out at a later time. In essence, TS allows for detecting code errors before running the code. This functionality is possible thanks to static type-checking in TS. As such, TypeScript facilitates effective work in large teams working on multifaceted projects, where it stays readable for both current and future users. This also translates directly into code quality. From this perspective, TS is very much a forward-looking solution for mature programmers.
Code quality is a roomy notion, the quintessential part of which should always be reduction of technical debt.
By means of type checking TypeScript makes the creation of high quality code easier already at the code writing stage, thus laying a strong foundation for preventing technological debt and enabling effective work on the code in the future.
Web Assembly (also called Wasm) has been on the minds of developers for a few years now but it was standardized by the World Web Consortium on December 5th, 2019. It has been gaining in popularity, as it allows for transferring the next group of desktop applications to the web and running them in today’s browsers. While some apps are still more suited for desktop, there are a number of programs whose users wait for their transfer to the web. This is possible thanks to Wasm’s ability to compile programs written in high-level programming languages (such as C, C++, Rust) and open them in a low-level (binary) browser code. This is an unprecedented opportunity for apps which couldn’t previously be used on the web and the reason why Web Assembly will be developing faster in 2021. Other advantages coming with using Wasm include performance and speed. Code execution happens before the full code is downloaded. Performance improvements are also possible because of the coherent and orderly use of code.
On the backend side, we opt for the market-available solutions which enable smooth performance (Python’s asynchronous requests and runtime compilations) and code quality (NonNull types, the null safe operator as well as typing and static typing).
Kotlin is a statically-typed programming language encompassing both object-oriented and functional programming paradigms. It is a Google-recommended language for Android app development. As Google research shows, 60% of professional Android developers make use of Kotlin. However, its application goes beyond Android to also include web development. It was developed to be compatible with the Java programming language by means of the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and due to its advantages, it comes off as a more concise, secure and coder-friendly version of Java. Its benefits include:
- Complete compatibility with Java,
- Limitation of null references by means of Nullable and NonNull types,
- Code compactness,
Kotlin’s short code ensures its readability for other developers and crash prevention. It also features code compilers which prove extremely helpful when spotting errors.
Despite some previous bad rep for PHP, the November 2020 update to PHP has been getting noticed due to some major new features and performance updates. While we won’t list all of the features here, we will focus on the most promising ones, looking ahead into 2021.
The universally useful feature of static typing - previously available among others in Kotlin and TS - is now also incorporated in PHP8. As a result, code error detection at the programming stage will also be possible when writing in PHP8.
Another change is the newly introduced Just-in-time (JIT) compiler which enables continuous and dynamic code compilation already during the code execution phase. In the process, bytecode is essentially converted to high-level machine language with easy-to-read syntax, which beats static compilation by making bytecode execution faster and well positioned in time.
Among other new features are union types which are data types carrying information that determines the use of specific values and variables. Let’s also not forget about the newly introduced null safe operator - especially useful for a number of nested calls - which prevents code execution and crashes in case of nullability errors. The above-mentioned improvements are all about fast performance, code quality and readability. Will they reinvent the way devs think about PHP? We feel great potential for that!
The popularity of programming languages by their share of tutorial searches in Google, source: Statista
What stands behind this popularity? Python’s creator Guido van Rossum (who now joined Microsoft) explains that behind the story of Python lie his work experiences resulting in a wish to develop a readable-first solution combining the functionalities of C-languages and shell scripts’ compactness at the same time.
Python is exactly that - which is a programming language oriented on code readability. With its uncomplicated syntax and block delimiters, it is extremely coder friendly.
What’s more, Python is extremely well-suited for data-based development work which is prevalent today. In addition to that, machine learning frameworks such as: TensorFlow and PyTorch work efficiently when written in Python. Finally, this programming language offers a number of ready-made libraries for cloud services (GCP, AWS, Azure).
On top of that, seeing that a series of releases is planned in Django for the next four years, Python ensures an environment in which we can easily keep up with these changes.
Planned Django releases 2019-2025, source: django-project.com
Looking at Python-based frameworks, Fast API is gaining popularity fast among developers. Contrary to Django, Fast API puts a strong emphasis on typing as such, which proves useful in app development. By means of typing, you can eliminate a number of errors which come out while writing code for an app. Using types also contributes to code readability, as it enables clear definitions of variables. Apart from that, Fast API uses asynchronicity which contributes to maintaining the speed of performance, while parallel tasks are being completed. One of the libraries which uses Fast API is Typer which utilizes type hinting in writing command line interfaces. One of the features which distinguishes Typer is its exemplary documentation.
To sum up, we see the New Year as the time of relative technological stability. We will have the chance to make further use of the convenient and scaled-up digital solutions fostered by the pandemic. Parallel to that, we will be applying top software solutions available in terms of stability and security, performance, and web-based availability. This means that software development is getting more and more optimized and sophisticated. It’s not only about writing the code but selecting the best languages, frameworks, and tools and making the script optimal for future use. Let’s see how it goes and if our predictions hit a bull’s eye!
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