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5 Questions to Consider before You Build Mobile Apps for Internet of Things (IoT)

Internet-of-Things

According to Gartner, IoT is a network of physical objects which contain embedded technology (such as intelligent sensors). These objects can interact, sense or communicate with internal or external systems.

According to most analysts, IoT is likely to be huge. The Acquity Grout (which is a part of Accenture), expects that 2/3 of consumers are likely to buy home-related connected technology by 2019 and about 1/2 are likely to buy wearable technology.

According to Gartner, the total number of connected industrial, business and consumer ‘things’ is likely to reach 26bn units by 2020.

IoT devices include smart appliances that can be remotely controlled and accessed by consumers for preventive maintenance. IoT has become so pervasive that ABI Research expects that the number of IP-connected devices and sensors in the world will exceed 30 billion by 2020.

There has been a consistent increase in the number of embedded devices small in size and connected to the internet in the recent past. A substantial number of IoT deployments is responsible for this, with apps such as home automation and industrial monitoring, among others. IoT may well be described as a new era in computing technology.

IoT is made up of billions of smart things connected with each other and can encompass all aspects of our lives, with its foundation being the intelligence that the embedded processing has to offer. In the IoT, smart machines communicate and interact with other machines, infrastructures, environments and objects. The data generated as a result is processed into useful actions that control and command things to make our lives much safer and easier.

However, it is only after mobile apps began to take off that the possibility of being able to send or receive IP-based data to devices that did not seem made for it began to take off. Such devices include toys, home appliances, cars, gas pumps, etc. It is only on that account that IoT has become the next big thing. According to Business Insider, the number of connected devices is expected to grow to 9 billion by 2018.

In the case of enterprise apps, a facilities manager may, for example, use such apps for receiving real-time updates on conditions in a plant, which may include information received from sensors installed on equipment. The sensors may inform him about variances in temperature or vibration of machinery that may require preventive maintenance after further diagnosis.

Mobile apps are heavily influencing the growth. The reasons include the following:

  • Diversification of mobile ecosystem – Besides many new entrants, established organizations are investing significantly in the mobile ecosystem. While many have diversified their mobile offerings through household products and consumer electronics, others are exploring wearable tech.
  • Improvements in app development – Developers are creating apps with high proficiency. They are applying their knowledge to the development of mobile apps that are not traditional, building upon their knowledge of app development from a coding and UI perspective.
  • Greater need for connectivity – Organizations develop more and more apps for different devices as consumers have become conditioned to be connected in different places, because of the popularity of mobile apps.

It is becoming clearer by the day that connectivity through mobile apps is becoming far greater than expected. Mobile apps are evolving further as more and more devices connect to the internet. As the environment becomes more connected, IoT brings with it new customized experiences and information from sensors connected to it.

For instance, there are Apple’s iBeacons, sensors connected to the internet that tie users’ physical presence in real time to the virtual world and lead to location data becoming actionable. A retailer may install iBeacons to prompt shoppers who are in his store to discover again digital coupons they may have saved earlier but forgotten.

While such iBeacon implementation is quite basic at present, in the future it could combine individualized information related to past purchasing behavior with sensor data. The retailer could match app usage analytics with data from location sensors to provide content that is even more personalized. That could include push notifications that are timed well and contain product recommendations based on the buying habits of users.

New types of experiences are also becoming a reality because of IoT. For example, smart homes are becoming possible on account of connected appliances such as the Nest thermostat. New apps are being developed around a whole new device ecosystem as such experiences continue to give rise to new managed services.

There is significant need for personalization of apps deployed for services related to smart homes. As new devices and features are added, there also is the need for rapid cycling through updates. It has become more important to have an effective strategy for management of the mobile app user experience, with IoT’s arrival.

The 5 Questions:

  1. Which mode of connectivity with mobile device (for example through WiFi or Bluetooth) will be ideal?
    According to a senior executive (director of strategy) at a development agency in London and New York city, which develops web products and mobile apps, it is a complex job to build an app that connects to a piece of hardware, because you have to think of the limitations of the hardware and how it will connect. Will it connect over Bluetooth or WiFi? Whether it is a part of Apple’s Made for iPhone (MFi) program, for instance, can be an important consideration for those building apps for iOS. Apple’s iOS Developer Library and MFi program assist developers with design of MFi accessories for IoT. These programs offer technical support for free for the engineering of electronic components related to iOS.At the early stages of development, you will have to decide which native phone features you will have to establish connectivity with. For example, if you are using an app such as Celeste, you should be aware of the difference between Bluetooth and WiFi. This could prove beneficial for apps used for remote control, such as Snatch, which helps interaction between Macbooks and iOS devices. You may even want to get in touch with cellular carriers to ensure that there are no differences in their services. For instance, some don’t let users make calls and surf online at the same time, while others do.
  2. Does the mobile device have hardware compatibility with the IoT device(s)?
    There are a number of considerations, such as the hardware and capabilities of the mobile device (such as an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch), when developing an app that depends on hardware. For example, Square designed its card reader to not plug into the 8-pin charging port, but into the headphone jack on iOS devices. One reason for the decision was that there is a lesser chance of breakage, since the port has greater physical strength and measures 1/8 inches.Square may thus have saved several million dollars on design rework as new iPhones now need adapters for old charging devices. However, the company still had to develop a product that changes data from the magnetic strip of a credit card into an audio signal, which lets it recognize transactions. This is neither easy nor inexpensive and yet this has let Square remain ahead, compared to, e.g., iHome which produced clock radios that frustrated many new users following the introduction of the Lightning connector.
  3. Does the mobile app built for IoT not violate the licensing agreement with the OEM (e.g., Apple, Samsung)?
    For example, Apple has two segments for its licensing program, one for the manufacturers and one for the developers. There are a different set of requirements for each. You should have your own manufacturing facilities for the manufacturing license. Both require your company to undergo a credit review. Businesses that qualify obtain special access to certain Apple hardware pieces, in addition to some inside information.
  4. Do the series of programming protocols to be used support IoT?
    To make an IoT device work with a mobile device, you have to use a series of programming protocols while developing an app for connected devices. A common code chunk, known as the External Accessory Framework, is entered in the earlier stages to inform the mobile device that another object is attempting to communicate with it.Following this step, you have to declare protocols which are appropriate to link the IoT device with a particular app, so that it is launched when connected. Unless this is done, iOS, for example, will launch the App Store to locate an app that is compatible.
  5. Are you going to use an off the shelf IoT platform or build from scratch?
    The things themselves are the starting points for IoT apps. These may or may not have a screen, a processor with low power, some kind of operating system embedded inside, in addition to a communication method (usually wireless) using a single or multiple protocols for communication. The things may connect to the internet directly or to an internet gateway or neighboring things.The system’s next tier comprises software and infrastructure that operates in the cloud or in a corporate data center and obtains and organizes the data streams coming from the things. The software running in this tier generally also manages the things and updates their firmware when required.

    The analytics tier follows this. This gets the organized data and processes it.

    The final one is the end-user tier, which is the app the end user interacts with and actually sees. This may be a mobile app, a web app or an enterprise application.

    If you want to build an IoT app, you are most likely to work on the last two tiers. That is why it generally is more sensible to develop an app based on an off the shelf IoT platform. These platforms generally include the second tier that performs time-series archiving for incoming data, in addition to an analytics tier, capabilities for management and activation, thin provisioning, a message bus which is real time, along with an API for communication between the platform and apps developed on the basis of the platform.

    ThingWorx, Xively, Bug Labs and Mnubo are among the companies offering such platforms.

    The amount of work it takes to build an IoT platform from scratch is considerable. On the other hand, by using an off the shelf platform to manage ingestion of data, the programming work may be reduced largely to creating a dashboard on the web that uses APIs to connect to the data.

Conclusion

The world is preparing for the IoT ecosystem, as is visible from the rising number of Internet users and analysts, who are already scrutinizing the best strategies to build engaging and clever mobile apps for your smartly connected devices. However, if you haven’t given a rational deliberation to the important concerns related to building mobile apps for IoT, it is time you took the above mentioned questions seriously.

Do you think the world is prepared to participate in the IoT environment?

Summary
Article Name
5 questions to consider before you build mobile apps for Internet of Things (IoT)
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Description
Read about five significant questions that you should answer before building mobile apps for Internet of Things.
About the Author
Amit Manchanda
Amit Manchanda is working as Project Lead at Net Solutions and has over 9 years of experience in technologies like ASP, Adobe Flex and Android. He has been part of SME (Subject Matter Expert) Group for RIA applications. He has good understanding of analyzing the technical need/problem of client and providing them the best solution. He enjoys interacting with his team & is passionate about his work. In his free time he loves to listen music, watch Cricket and play with his daughter.

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