For the past couple of years, wearable technology has become one of the hottest fields in the technology space. In the absence of having a stable line of products to build on, many developers have been struggling to figure out where to focus their efforts. At the recent International CES there was a wealth of panels and events designed to help solve this pressing issue.
No Longer Just Glorified Pedometers
With the first generation of modern wearables, one of the biggest critiques of the technology was that it didn’t do anything useful. For example, logging information such as calories burned or steps walked is only useful if you can turn those insights into valuable information.
It might seem that hardware and the form it takes is most important in the wearable revolution. Be it jewellery, a plastic bracelet headphones or something else, all the devices do is gather information. Software still is the backbone of wearable devices because it differentiates devices from each other.
Regardless of the application, developers will always need to be conscious of energy consumption when writing for battery powered devices. Although computing power has evolved greatly over the past few years, batteries sometimes struggle to keep pace. Phone manufacturers have turned to larger screens as a way to pack larger batteries in their phones, rather than sacrificing power. In the case of wearable devices, style is a top priority.
When creating applications for wearable devices, developers need to remember that users don’t want to be tethered to a wall. While wireless technology is beginning to make charging a seamless experience, in the meantime you should realize that 24/7 usage is difficult to achieve in even the best designed devices.
A Lack of Mass Appeal
To a programmer, wearable devices might seem like the greatest thing since sliced bread, but for the general public, they aren’t (yet) worth the cost. During an analyst briefing the week of CES by The NPD Group, one of the most important figures mentioned is that the market for wearables isn’t likely to exceed eight or nine million over the next five years.
Of that figure, smart watches will make up a significant percentage, but activity trackers will hold the largest size of the market. Based on these figures, for developers looking to cater to the mass market, you’ll want to focus your efforts around this space.
Headset devices will still be in demand. Unlike Google Glass which failed due to consumer backlash, headsets of the future will focus on industrial and B2B markets which can handle higher costs and aren’t as fashion conscious.
Still An Emerging Field
Wearable technology is still in it’s infancy and companies are throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks. This is more of an issue for hardware developers due to the prototyping costs involved with developing a product which has a perfect fit for the market. According to The NPD Group, within five years there will be a “must have” killer device to dominate the wearable space.
Notable applications of wearable technology such as sensors in clothing are currently in the works, but a lack of wireless recharging, the difficultly of waterproofing and concerns over accuracy of the sensors in such devices are making solutions impractical for the time being.
The biggest challenge software developers will always be interoperability between devices. Developers can only retain so much knowledge at once which is why most tend to specialize in a narrow niche. With many vendors pushing proprietary standards, software engineers are going to be dragged in the middle of the crossfire over the next few years.
Manufacturers such as Apple have been setting an example of openness through HealthKit – a tool for developers which makes it easier to access health data from wearables (with user consent) through a central repository. Google has launched a competitor to HealthKit known as Google Fit which also allows developers to use data from Android devices in their applications.
Making it Work
When it comes to code, you need to ensure your idea adds value to the general market. In the case of wearables, you need to focus on telling the user on how they can improve. Whether it’s through exercise, diet or something else, your software needs to provide a compelling reason for the user to wear the device.