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Sep 30, 2014 | 6 min read

Trends

At the IoT block party, Mobile app is the MC

Baptiste Benezet


FABERNOVEL TECHNOLOGIES
Connected objects and the Internet of Things clearly are trending topics. The world is already filled with almost 9 billions of connected devices. While fighting for shares in the smartphone industry, competitors are unveiling their connected products, seeking to claim their pioneer position in this highly valuable market.

We, at Applidium, see this current as a tremendous opportunity to enhance existing mobile services and imagine disruptive experiences.
As we started developing on Glass or smartwatches, we wondered what would the future of mobile apps in an Internet of Things world be and we would like to share our views with you today.

Connection in progress

A brief history of connected objects

The name “Internet of Things” was first used by Kevin Ashton (P&G) in 1999 to refer to the connectivity of RFID tags to the Internet. After minor tries, the first real connected object was the Nabaztag. This rabbit, introduced by Rafi Haladjian’s company Violet in 2005, quickly became a flagship item. Wi-Fi enabled, the Nabaztag can download weather forecasts or read the owner’s mails, along with being customizable. In 2006, Apple collaborated with the swoosh sport brand to launch Nike+iPod. A tag, placed in one of your shoes, recorded data from your running sessions and sent them to your iPod Nano. And in 2010, Parrot created a new entertaining experience with the AR Drone, controlled by a smartphone over Wi-Fi with onboard sensors and a camera, allowing augmented reality games. In its first years, the IoT market was already widely diversified.

A growing market

As you surely know the current trend of making connected things may become a large market and a great transformation in our habits.
From wristbands to lightbulbs, including weighing scales, smoke detectors or even clothes, every common object now finds its place in a connected world.
The IoT market has been quietly growing these past years and now seems ready to skyrocket. Within 2020, 50 billions of connected devices will spread over the world, and the market will be worth b$ 5,000. (Source)
The diversity of the connected objects seems limitless and will contribute to this expansion. Health, House appliance, Sport, Entertainment, every domain is concerned and they have only one thing in common : your mobile.

One phone to rule them all

The rise of the IoT market has been made possible thanks to the progress in the smartphone industry. Since 2007 and the introduction of the original iPhone, smartphones have invaded the world, constantly evolving and improving their characteristics, and especially their connectivity, with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, LTE and NFC.
The war among the competitors has started a race for miniaturization, and opened the gates for small connected devices able to communicate efficiently with your phone.
The smartphone will become the gateway of your connected life. While having a deep look to the current landscape, we envisage 3 realistic scenarii, see below.

Smartphone is the middleman

The configuration panel

Many connected objects look simple and passive. Take as an example the screenless wirstbands such as Fitbit Flex, Jawbone Up or Withings Pulse. Those trendy objects, stuffed with attractive features and a lot a sensors, are useless without their dedicated app. The first step to do before you can use them is to configure them with your smartphone. The app allows you to create a profile, select the features you want to use and set an alarm for example. The software is also a continuity of the object, allowing you to see your statistics, the most famous being your number of steps. Thus, in spite of its ability to collect data on its own, the connected wirstband needs the smartphone to give you back those pieces of information, as well as to get OTA firmware updates. The link between the mobile and the object seems to be more than just a Bluetooth LE connection, they complete each other.

The remote control

The mobile also finds its use as a remote to control all of your connected objects. Imagine your phone as a universal, all-in-one, instantly configurable remote. From drones to doorlocks, including your smart thermostat or your lightbulbs, your phone pilots everything. Turn off the lights, adjust the temperature, check your security cameras or skip the song on your connected speakers, all of this with your smartphone. With Homekit, Apple enhances this experience, turning your phone into a Siri-controlled remote that does what you say.
Moreover, linked with beacons – other small connected devices – the possibilities are endless : approach your house and the door unlocks, the lights go on and your smart house comes to life.

The connection hub

When it comes to wearables, such as watches or glasses, decisions have to be made to link efficiency with design, price and autonomy. With Glass, Google made a clear choice: the wearable is a continuity of the mobile and not a device of its own. In that case, Glass uses the resources offered by the phone, such as its connectivity (LTE or Wi-Fi), its powerful processor and its storage capacity. Thanks to that, Glass can guide you through GPS or record videos. At Applidium the Glasswares we design must enhance the experience “taking the best of both worlds”. The phone as a central hub could also let different objects communicate between them. Thus, your Glass could alert you that your dog left the house, while the humidity in the kitchen is too high. But when you look at the actual smartwatches, many differences can be seen. Most of them follow the Glass “phone-dependant” model, but a few of them (such as the Samsung Gear S) try to overpass the mobile, with nano-SIM slot and storage capacity. There comes a dilemma: should the watch be as thin as possible and take the best out of the smartphone, or should it be autonomous and act as a stand-alone device ?
Apple might have just brought the answer to that question : hybrid ! With its simply called Apple Watch, the Cupertino firm makes a giant leap for the IoT. Although many things still have to be specified, the next trendy object can act as a stand-alone sensor-filled sport device, with storage capacity for music and photos, or be a continuity of the iPhone, using its connectivity for GPS, calls or SMS, NFC for Apple Pay, or third-party apps.
We might see a pre and post Apple Watch era.

IoT-focused design

Smart as a double-entendre

Conceiving an app for a connected device might be trickier than for a mobile. The first thing to do is to define precisely the role of the smartphone. This approach will depend on the needs, as a glassware must be more epurated than a configuration panel for a house surveillance kit. At Applidium, we design mobile apps usually following iOS and Android Guidelines in order to give you the best experience, so when it comes to develop a software for a connected object, the same policy is followed in order to create a breakthrough experience and bring something useful, easy-to-use and meet with a user’s expectations.

Early-stage development

As the IoT is quite recent, wearable apps still are at an experimental stage. Like the first apps in the App Store, they don’t take full advantage of the possibilities given by the connected world surrounding us. With Glass and Android Wear guidelines, Google took a first step in the standardization of the apps. The GDK (Glass SDK) looks like an streamlined iteration of Android, but the new APIs (application/object) still need a lot of refinements. By expanding its Explorer Program for Glass, Google seems to be filling this gap and improving the connected experience.
With WatchKit, Apple will bring guidelines to fit the new UI of its long-awaited Apple Watch. This system seems more mature than Android Wear, allowing many ways to interact, through the Digital Crown, the force-haptic-capable screen, and through third-party apps. Although the philosophy behind Watchkit truly differs from Android Wear, they have some similarities and designing apps for them is a continuity of a developer’s work.

Retro-skills

Combining a simple interface with powerful features is a challenge we are willing to accept. The skills and experience we have acquired give us a solid basis in order to design and develop for smart objects. At Applidium, we are transposing our mastered knowledge of server/smartphone communications in order to create enhanced smartphone/object interactions, thinking the user experience as a continuum.
Challenge accepted.

Conclusion

Despite of the kind of hype overload, we, at Applidium, wondered what would be the role of mobile apps in a smart world filled with connected objects. The interactions between the mobile and the objects are crucial and during the years to come, wearables and other smart objects will flourish only if the transition is well executed. In fact, any kind of object will be smart within years.
As for today, mobile apps stand at the center of an IoT world, providing a smooth continuity amongst all the devices, what would be the next step?

With the multiplication of mobiles and sensors-filled objects, coupled with the expansion of the Cloud computing and Big Data Processing, it won’t be long before the IoT becomes the IoE (Internet of Everything).

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