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Hottest app trends for 2016

Clearly, 2015 proved that apps are eating the Internet as users spend more time on their mobile devices than they do online or on other screens. The app ecosystem experienced tremendous growth, profitability and expansion as mobile devices became the new normal for delivering content, entertainment, transportation and much more. With new devices and platforms, every app publisher must evolve its strategy to be relevant across various channels and screens going forward. We expect an exciting year ahead. Here are the top five app trends for 2016:

Samsung Gear VR
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Fintech vs. banks

Traditional banks are playing in a highly competitive market with fin-tech start-ups like Jiedaibao in China and Atom Bank in the U.K. chipping away at many banking services. Competition will increase as these apps gain in both iOS and Google Play. This area is one to watch, particularly among young adults who are tech savvy and willing to test new banking, financing and payment models and providers. We expect this increased competition will also drive innovation from traditional banks as they seek to compete for customers and further evolve their apps and their businesses.

New generation of gamers

tvOS finally brings third-party apps to Apple TV, leading with gaming and video streaming. This will introduce a new population of gamers into the market who do not traditionally self-identify as gamers, providing a huge opportunity for game developers and publishers. This is similar to the way mobile games transformed and redefined the market. Finally, this platform will expand cross-device advertising between the TV and mobile devices and command higher prices for content delivered to this historically lucrative big screen.

Expanded opportunity for Android

Google Play became a leader in U.S. downloads in 2015 and we see the momentum for Google continuing in the U.S. in 2016. With Google's new Now on Tap service, consumers can discover a new app or interact with a different one through the initial app they opened on their phone, which allows them to explore and find new applications without the app store. This delivers a much more natural and intuitive way to uncover that great app you didn't even know you wanted. We believe this will make the Android platform even more attractive to developers, further improving the platform's competitive position in the market.

Wearable wave—from consumer to enterprise

Wearables have been growing in popularity as devices like the Apple Watch and Galaxy Gear come to market, building on the previous success of fitness devices like Fitbit and Jawbone Up. Next year will be the year that wearable app developers explore and deploy more business and professional apps to leverage these new platforms. Uses that include health monitoring, oversight of business operations and even business analytics updates will take wearables beyond games and fitness apps.

Virtual reality hype heats up

We expect the market for virtual-reality devices and content to begin to develop in earnest in 2016. The growth will be bolstered by new players and devices from the eagerly anticipated Oculus Rift (from Facebook) to the cost effective Samsung's Gear VR. As publishers like Google and the New York Times begin to support these new devices and experiences awareness will continue to grow. While some categories and countries are particularly ripe for VR in 2016 — especially the Japanese market and games (as Sony launches the PlayStation VR) mostly, it will be a year of hype.

In all, it has become clear that apps have come to permeate every aspect of our lives — from gaming to shopping to banking. It will be exciting to see the trends for 2016 come to fruition. But even more exciting will be what we aren't expecting — surprises are sure to abound.

Commentary by Danielle Levitas, senior vice president of research and marketing communications at App Annie, a marketing firm delivering data, insights and analysis to the app-developer community.