Developing for the digitally transformed

When having an app is an enterprise standard rather than a competitive differentiator, what comes next?

Let’s make one thing clear. Whether you sell shoes, dishwashers or car insurance, technology is embedded in the fabric of your day to day, and most certainly in the interactions with your customers.

I’m not here to tell you how important a digital transformation is for your business, because at this point, that ship has sailed. Having an app or user friendly website is no longer a competitive differentiator, it’s an enterprise standard. In a digitally transformed world, the start line has shifted forward and consumer expectations for digital fitness are on an entirely new level that’s unreachable by simply hiring more developers or launching an in-store app.

In the last year alone, we’ve seen 200 major phone releases, 20 OS updates, and countless new technologies hit the market. The digital landscape is rapidly changing, and new devices and operating systems are constantly being added and replaced. Our homes are getting smarter, our devices more connected. While new innovation presents exciting opportunities for businesses, developers, and consumers alike, the fragmented digital ecosystem that follows brings challenges far too complex for your average “innovative” company.

Will my bank’s app work in the tunnel on the way to Logan airport? What about in a cab weaving through the busy streets of London, Lima, or Las Vegas? Will I be able to check in to my flight while Waze, Uber, and Spotify are running in the background? What if I’m on the LG G5 running Nougat, or the iPhone 4 running iOS 6.1? I could go on all day (or week) running through possible scenarios, but the point is, the company that can provide an unwavering user experience despite a wildly fragmented ecosystem is who we should deem truly innovative.

A digital landscape divided

Let’s break this down. Ten years ago the iPhone was introduced. Since then, there have been countless generations and models of iOS, and the launch of a pervasive Android operating system. What began as a single device over a decade ago has turned into a complex ecosystem. Digital innovation has resulted in more smartphone options, but also myriad new technologies, from chatbot and AI assistant to connected thermostats and smart fridges. User experiences must work across all of these platforms that receive regular updates of their own.

To make matters even more complicated, we’re constantly being hit with a flood of new phone features, bringing facial recognition, touch ID, and sensor technology to the hands of everyday consumers. This is all very exciting, but for every new capability released, developers need to figure out how to build compatible apps for the moment these capabilities hit the market.

Unfortunately, user experience is the first thing to suffer as new hurdles arise, and with quality standards climbing, consumers have no mercy. The second your app glitches, it can result in a lost users -- and eventually lost customers. This puts a massive burden on developers to ensure quality regardless of the device, OS, and end user conditions. The market is becoming so big that developers can’t keep up with older iterations and those just emerging. It’s daunting to think about, but all hope is not lost.

Fragmentation decoded

While there’s no denying the challenges associated with fragmentation, there are several steps that businesses and developers can take to keep pace and rest easy that their user experience stays in tact. For one, automation is the most effective way to make this entire process less of a headache. Having a robust continuous integration and automated release cycle in place can save you hours if not days writing tests and debugging your apps. Having the proper tools and processes in place is critical if you want to keep up a speedy cadence of new features and app updates.

Second, staying on top of mobile trends and feature releases is crucial in a competitive market. Being aware of what’s coming up in the release pipeline can be a saving grace. It’s up to development teams to keep up with the market and start working with previews the minute they become available. Third, keeping a pulse on your end users should guide your entire team’s testing efforts. If you continuously validate features and track key metrics like usage and engagement, it’ll allow you to more effectively pick and choose which devices and operating systems are mission critical to your app’s performance.

Lastly, building a sustainable branching strategy that allows your development and test teams to navigate quickly between different mobile devices, OSes and mobile app versions will bring agility into the development cycle. It will allow teams to optimize their efforts, and only focus on the proper permutations.

Mapping the app world

With each new OS release or device unveil, there’s an opportunity to create a smooth user experience that affirms consumer expectation of quality. Of course, additional insight on mobile trends, upcoming releases, and testing plan adjustments is always a plus.

To ease the burden of the complex app world we’re living in, this column will unpack each major announcement and OS or device demo release to get developers and testers on the right track, and keep today’s truly innovative companies ahead of the curve.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?