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Three innovation hotbeds that will shake up software development in 2016

It’s incredible how far software development has come in just the past five years. When I was in college during 2010, I felt like I was creating cutting-edge, exciting software.

Back when apps were the new, hot thing, I built the official Britney Spears iPhone app (opens in new tab). And, just for fun, I built a soundboard (opens in new tab) meant to annoy friends and telemarketers.

Those projects took me weeks, even months. While I learned a lot from them, they seem like child’s play compared to today’s software trends.

Today, agile development is beginning to bleed into the world of hardware development. Hardware teams like Tempo Automation (opens in new tab) are experimenting with rapid prototyping in the same spirit as software developers.

The result? A growing, incoming tide of new products and technology. As a developer/entrepreneur, these three areas have my attention as particular hotbeds of innovation:

1. The Internet of Things

As 2016 nears, so does the unstoppable force of the Internet of Things. For software designers, it’s an exciting time: The IoT means we get to work on hardware more than ever before. The potential for consumers and our society to connect anything with an on-off switch to the Internet (and thus to each other and to you) is astounding.

We already have baby monitors (opens in new tab) that feed vital statistics to parents’ smartphones and public trash cans (opens in new tab) that alert the city when they’re full. Bluetooth sensors (opens in new tab) with analytics are becoming very affordable, suggesting a spate of innovative products to come that will be activated by users’ presence. And, by the way, if you thought Pokémon was dead (opens in new tab), it’s about to be the biggest thing that ever hit the smartphone.

The automotive sector is particularly poised to benefit from the IoT. Imagine having a car that knows your schedule and automatically enters the most efficient route to your meeting based on crowdsourced traffic data. Once it parks, it monitors and feeds the meter for you until you return. When you leave work in the afternoon, it reminds you that your fridge is empty and the milk expired three days ago. The IoT is about to make the daily commute much more user-friendly.

2. Virtual Reality

We should see a lot of innovation in virtual reality (VR), thanks in large part to the affordable Google Cardboard (opens in new tab) kit that retrofits any smartphone into a virtual reality device. VR-compliant applications can put users on sunset cruises on the Rhein, sun-soaked beaches in Turks and Caicos, or the sun-swept steppes of Mongolia. That is going to be the next big media experience, and it will open new doors in 2016.

The challenge will be to make it relevant to everyday consumers. For gamers, the application is obvious, but VR has potential far beyond first-person shooter games. Virtual tourism, video, military training, meetings, and telepresence are all ripe with possibilities. Disney just invested $65 million in a startup virtual reality company to bring VR to cinema.

Entertainment media will be just the beginning with virtual reality. Think about a mechanic who is plugged in to virtual or augmented reality. He’ll be able to see colour-coded instructions that enable him to assemble and disassemble an engine with incredible speed and accuracy.

How about the world of education? Students won’t just be sitting at their desks typing essays any more. With virtual reality, they’ll be able to journey to far-off places with their anthropology class. Shift to biology class, and they’ll shrink down to the level of a cell and be able to explore its many organelles in 3D. VR’s educational possibilities are fascinating and limitless.

But perhaps the most compelling use of the technology is in the medical field. Vision therapy, for instance, is about to transform. There is a company called Vivid Vision (opens in new tab) that’s working on a virtual reality game that corrects strabismus (crossed eye) and amblyopia (lazy eye).

3. WebSocket

If there is one thing we can’t stand — developers and consumers alike — it’s a slow and unreliable Internet connection. And with IoT and virtual reality on the horizon, we’ll need faster, more reliable connections more than ever. While WebSocket isn’t new, expect it to come of age to improve Internet connectivity significantly in 2016.

With traditional HTML, clients (like web browsers) communicated with web servers through a walkie-talkie style call-and-response system. WebSocket puts a client and a server in the same room for a real-time conversation.

The connection is two-way and always on, meaning it’s also very fast. And because WebSocket communication only happens when needed, it actually reduces bandwidth usage, which is important if the Internet of Things is to proliferate.

With WebSocket architecture, web apps will take less time to load and be more responsive. Instead of hitting a button and waiting for the page to reload, you’ll hit a button and only the new elements of the page will need to reload. For developers, this is important because our web frameworks are beginning to incorporate this technology. Expect apps to become interactive and visually complex, now more than ever.

Consumer Contentment

Next year’s big software developments won’t just be new gadgets and gizmos — they’ll reinvest the way we think about the Internet. Oculus Rift is expected to come out with a consumer version of its virtual reality headset, which will hopefully spur some software development of its own. WebSocket will free designers to think in new and creative ways, and the Internet of Things will continue to grow as a new playground for designers and developers alike.

In 2016, we’ll become more connected than ever before. The Internet will become integrated into our lives so thoroughly that we’ll tap into it to park our cars, to monitor our youngest members, and to escape to other worlds.

It’s an incredible time to be a software developer — and an even better time to be a consumer.

Tony Scherba is the president and a founding partner of Yeti (opens in new tab)