What Software Development Trends Can We Expect to See in 2021?

A forward look at software development trends in 2021

Steve O'Brien

Founder & CEO
·7 min read (1845 words)

This post was originally published on LinkedIn

I think we can all agree that 2020 was without a doubt one of the strangest years in recent history. The global pandemic, which has now become the new way of life (for the time being), has affected every man and his dog whilst transforming the way nearly every business operates across the world. Software development has become a significant aspect of business today and developers have become an asset to businesses to help enterprises innovate, evolve, and grow. We're just one month into 2021 and it’s becoming very clear that whoever has the best of the cutting-edge software technology, will come out on top in this year’s corporate battle.

The last twelve months have been hugely significant for the Software Development industry with lots of tangible breakthroughs in many areas. COVID-19 has catalysed the digital transformation significantly, and this will only increase further in 2021 and beyond.

Let's take a look at some of the software development trends we can expect to see over the coming year...

1. Centralised infrastructure: Cloud, cloud and more cloud

Cloud based technology is old news, but it's an aspect of software we can expect to stick around for a while. With most people now being forced to work from home, businesses are totally reliant on the cloud. The cloud has become stronger than ever during the pandemic and now most businesses would struggle to survive without it. Worldwide end-user spending on public cloud services is forecast to grow 18.4% in 2021 to total $304.9 billion, up from $257.5 billion in 2020, according to Gartner, Inc. A global-scale catastrophe like Corona showed that we not only need Cloud for upscale, we also need it for down-scaling, i.e., when demand for our services drops significantly. Think about the tourism and transportation industry that has to maintain their expensive data centres, despite their market falling by 90%. What's more, the biggest public Cloud provider, Amazon, has declared that they will give free Cloud Computing training to 29 million people between 2021–2025!

2. Decentralised infrastructure: Edge computing will see an exponential growth

The coming year will prove to be the real inflection for edge computing. Practical applications are finally emerging where this architecture can bring real benefits. With the rise of connected vehicles (autonomous Cars, drones), online gaming, IoT, smart devices, edge AI/ML and, of course, 5G mobile devices, Edge Computing will be a gigantic market in 2021 and beyond. Forrester predicts that Data centre marketplaces will emerge as a new edge hosting option and private 5G will push enterprises to the edge. As edge computing becomes a "cool" new platform for business computing. I think if done right it will feel the same as standard cloud computing meaning the complexity is handles for you. You can already see this with services like CloudFlare and AWS that can handle allocation of resources around the world close to customers automatically. Unfortunately this does promote a continued reliance on the big hosting vendors with multiple data centres across the world.

3. Quantum computing will gain momentum

Quantum Computing is one of the most revolutionary technologies out there. Just like the digital computer, it has the potential to impact every sector. There were some significant breakthroughs and advancements in Quantum computing in 2020. In June 2020, Honeywell claimed that it had created the most powerful Quantum Computer, beating the previous record set by Google. And more recently, a group of scientists from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) showed that Quantum Computer could beat the most advanced classical Supercomputer comfortably for a particular task. Governments and tech giants globally are heavily investing in quantum computing - with Google and IBM being two of the biggest players currently. The fact that quantum computing can effectively break all cryptography and security is something that might be a bit of an issue! In order to remain secure everything would have to use a quantum version meaning everyone would suddenly need to upgrade to quantum computers 😬. I don't think we have to worry about that in 2021 but it certainly seems to be approaching.

4. Artificial Intelligence - behaviour driven

I'm going to be eagerly awaiting Jeff Hawkins from Numenta's new book to be released in March on their new advancements in understanding how the human neocortex does the amazing things it does from a computational view point. This is striking from first learning more about being human and more about building intelligent machines. I think we will see much more behaviour based AI where AI can make predictions, take action and learn optimisations through this. One of the major insights from the research at Numenta is that for a system to truly understand and learn it has to be able to move a sensor through its environment - this helps with forming predictions and with understanding how actions can change that information stream. This is currently mainly an area of research but will become much more mainstream, possibly in simulated environments first, before we can hand over to the AI to run the optimisations required - all powered by streamed connected data.

AI has seen many breakthroughs in 2020 with GPT-3 being quite significant. OpenAI created GPT-3, which has made it possible to create human-like text using Deep Learning. They have recently extended GPT-3 with two new models that combine NLP with image recognition to give its AI a better understanding of everyday concepts. Their showcase example asking GPT-3 to create "an armchair in the shape of an avocado" and the resulting images it creates showing a function chair that also looks like an avocado - this demonstrates quite an incredible understanding of a fair few concepts.

In 2021, we can also expect to see a breakthrough in Natural Language Processing, where AI will write articles or write small software programs. It's important to note that AI is not unbiased, and ethical AI is getting more traction. Another major trend in AI is explainable AI, which is where an AI needs to give an explanation for why it has taken a certain decision. This is a tough problem to crack as humans find it hard enough to explain reasoning, many decisions are based on accumulated knowledge of decades of learning and life experiences, the actual memories that formed the wisdom you are now using has long since gone. AI works much the same way, pathways are strengthened by learning, it would be interesting to trace this back. This is potentially an area where we can't easily look to the human brain for inspiration and would be by its nature very, um... artificial. However this is good as one of the major dangers with AI currently is how brittle it is and over trust - it's a black box that becomes unquestionable. And that is not good.

In 2021, there will be major progress in these fields as the EU has set regulations to explain AI’s decision making. AI will also see major adoption in Military Aviation in 2021 and beyond. Only a few days ago, the US Air Force used AI as Co-Pilot to fly an Aircraft. Whilst it would be possible to automate passenger jets, this is actually an easier problem than self driving cars, I think the barriers would be more physiological. I suspect we will see fully autonomous cars before we loose commercial Aircraft pilots.

We can certainly expect to see lots more mind-blowing innovations in AI in 2021!

5. App development: apps and connected experiences will continue to dominate

Would you leave the house without your smartphone? The answer is probably no. Smartphones are now an integral part of modern daily life. There are currently 3.5 billion smartphone users worldwide and this will only increase in 2021 as we place more reliance on technology. Because of this, Mobile Apps are becoming increasingly important for end-users, especially for the younger generation. For this reason, it is likely we'll see a greater domination of mobile app development, and responsive mobile-first web development - as mobile becomes the primary device for many users. Having poor mobile experiences will severely hurt sales and customer engagement. I've noticed myself form this habit too - only selecting business tools that have a decent companion mobile experience. Furthermore users are demanding access across multiple platforms as standard - web apps, desktop apps and mobile apps.

6. Wearable devices, smart sensors

Things that get connected to the internet often get called "smart" - not sure why. But certainly 2021 will see continued development in this space. With additional devices - Oura ring being one of my favourite at present - this tracks your activity as well as your sleep patterns by monitoring your resting heart rate and body temperature - all through a ring. Increasing data coverage, with 5G and Satellite systems like Starlink, will make connectivity faster and more reliable meaning we should see more devices sending more data!

I often think back to biology when thinking of these systems - this helps paint how we are really still in the early stages of this connected technology. Small numbers of sensors and their realtime data can create significant data challenges. Compare that to the human ear that has over 50,000 individual detectors and let's ignore the skin, somatosensory system and the retina and we can see there is still a long way to go in our ability to consume, store and understand data. Whilst many are obsessed with data storage, I actually think we will start to see more reliance on the storage of a learned data model output. We don't need to store every second of sensor data, we just have to stream that through our all seeing and knowing AI and leave all the decisions up to the AI super brain. I refer back to point 4 here. Of course, what I really mean is we just need to store the learning not the data.

7. Blockchain

Blockchain is big money right now with 1 Bitcoin peaking at Β£30,000 per coin in 2020. As there is a finite amount of coins, and mining is the realm of big computing, I expect this value to increase again in 2021 though the road will be bumpy. This is set to gain more adoption in 2021, with major companies like Paypal enabling trading using the currency. The technology powering cryptocurrency itself is also finding its way into smart contracts and other data security sectors and many hosting services such as AWS make it quite easy to spin up blockchain services. I think 2021 will start seeing the buzz and hype settle down and some of the practical applications winning through - often with a new hammer (like blockchain) many companies start to see blockchain shaped nails everywhere - when the reality is blockchain becomes another useful technology to use and have ready in your proverbial toolbox.

So there we have it, a few of my software development trends for 2021!

If your looking to embrace software development for your business in 2021 then do get in touch.

To any software developers out there, what are your thoughts? Which trends are you expecting to see over the next year or so?

I'm Steve O'Brien

Founder & CEO at Newicon

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