Disruptive, evolving, everywhere: Big mobile trends developers should watch

Anna Starasts

May 22, 2013

Farhan Thawar, VP of Engineering for Xtreme Labs, appears as part of our Leaders Series, conversations with tech and media leaders about influential trends and topics in their field. 

We meet with mobile developers or developers that are curious about moving into mobile development all the time. The attraction isn’t surprising. Mobile is an exciting area of tech: disruptive and evolving, with the potential to reach millions of users on a device that has transformed the way we live our lives. By 2014, it’s reported that the number of mobile phone subscriptions will outnumber the number of people on the planet.

Toronto’s tech ecosystem certainly reflects this excitement. Investors like Matt Golden of Golden Venture Partners are focusing on mobile investments. Mobile-focused startups are attracting big investments, like Pressly, which raised $1.5M in March for its HTML5 publishing platform. Even computer science grads are feeling the buzz: mobile strategy and product development firm Xtreme Labs has received more resumes from Waterloo grads than Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, Square, Twitter and Yelp combined.

For developers who want to follow a few big mobile industry trends (and stay a step ahead when planning their career path) what areas should they keep their eyes on?

We met with Xtreme Labs’ VP of Engineering, Farhan Thawar, to get an expert opinion. A well-known figure in the Toronto tech community, Farhan was previously Chief Software Architect at Achievers (I Love Rewards), Head of Search & MSN Platform for Microsoft Canada, and Technical Lead at Trilogy Software.

Farhan was clear from the get-go of our conversation: following mobile trends isn’t just for web or front ends developers. These trends are equally relevant for backend devs who are interested in working on mobile products. After all, an optimized, responsive backend that gives you the right amounts of data with low latency is the foundation on which all great mobile experiences are built.

Opportunity 1: We’ve barely scratched the surface with mobile B2B

Mobile has been overwhelmingly dominated by consumer apps and services. But every big company knows how much its employees use personal smartphones. Why shouldn’t that personal device also allow them to access enterprise data on the go? Email is just the beginning. How about accessing documents or VPNing into confidential data?

“Accessing enterprise data from smartphones has the potential to be a much faster and more efficient experience for employees,” says Farhan. “Especially if the mobile format is distilled to address only the core experience.”

The main issue currently is that most enterprise services haven’t yet been optimized for mobile. Especially when it comes to UI/UX, the B2B mobile experience has ample opportunity for innovation and growth.

From a career standpoint, it’s worth keeping your eye on mobile B2B: “It’s not as sexy as consumer, but B2B is definitely more lucrative if engineers and designers are interested,” says Farhan.

Opportunity 2: The explosion of ancillary services around mobile

The emergence of ancillary services for mobile is already big, but there’s plenty of room for more. Farhan highlighted three areas where he can see further disruption occurring: hardware, payments and security.

The impact of hardware is evident in a field like healthcare, where specialized hardware combined with a mobile device can quite literally have life-saving uses. Take Glooko, for example, a blood glucose monitoring system researched and developed at Xtreme Labs. Glooko consists of an iPhone app and a special cable that connects to a glucose monitor, allowing diabetics to log their own blood glucose levels on their iPhone and also share this detailed log with their physician.

A second area to watch is payments. A prime example is Square, the mobile payment system pioneered by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, which allows entrepreneurs to accept credit card payments from a mobile phone (also a great example of disruptive hardware). The compact card reader has already processed over $12 billion in payments in Canada and the US, and uptake has already been twice what was predicted since the Canadian launch five months ago.

Even traditional players have jumped into the mobile payments space. This spring, Interac completed its first-ever mobile debit transaction in partnership with RBC and payment processor Moneris Solutions. Interac’s new mobile debit payment service, Flash, will be rolled out throughout 2013.

The third area to watch is security. Farhan is acutely aware of how important security is to Xtreme Labs’ clients in Financial Services for example, for whom it’s essential to operate within a “safe mode” when employees access enterprise information from a mobile device. Security is also closely intertwined with the growth of mobile payments and the increasing fluidity of data between the enterprise and personal smartphones.

We also divulge a huge amount of personal information through our mobile devices voluntarily, like with social networks. Personal data mining and security became hot-button issues last year with the controversial privacy policy changes of big social players like Facebook and Instagram. But even you’re not on social media, mobile habits are startlingly revealing about who we are: A study by MIT and Belgium’s Louvain University found that mobile phone location records can identify users even more accurately than their own fingerprints. Protecting this information has yet to catch up with how fast we’re sharing it.

Are you a developer who has already experienced the impact of these two big trends in your job? Share your thoughts with us by commenting below. 

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