Gartner forecasts that there will be more than 25 billion things connected to the Internet by 2020, creating an almost overwhelming amount of information. So the biggest problem with the Internet of Things right now is not the technology needed to make it work, but knowing what to do with it. For that, we need application developers to figure out a way to make all that data useful.
App developers will be the ones to make the IoT accessible to ordinary consumers. But the applications should be unique and innovative, rather than a rehash of what is already in the market. We are already seeing a me-too attitude in the wearables market. Fitness bands all have the same functionalities as other fitness bands in the market. More of the same won’t increase the IoT’s value. What we need are those insanely outrageous ideas that ultimately serve a purpose, like potted plants that tweet you if they need to be watered, or the refrigerator that sends you an SMS detailing what groceries you need to buy.
Here are some tips for coming up with such apps.
Think of apps that continuously learn
App developers need to change their development mindsets. It is no longer enough to come up with an application that will collect data from and control a connected device. You will have to create apps that make use of the data the devices gather.
For instance, you can create an app that talks to a smart thermostat to help you lower heating and cooling costs. But it would be better if you had an app that could track the user’s behavior so that you could make the device more autonomous. This is what Nest is doing. Its thermostat learns about your schedule and behavior, and it adjusts itself to suit your lifestyle and keep you comfortable without forcing you to think about it. If you like it colder in the afternoons and warmer at nights, it knows that. And without you doing anything (beyond the initial training period), Nest adjusts the temperature according to your preferences. What’s more, it keeps track of your behavior and usage and gives you reports that can help you save more money and use energy more efficiently.
Rather than coming up with an app that simply lets you read and adjust device operation remotely, make your app process the data that the device gathers to help give it more value.
Go for services
A good way for developers to have a steady income stream is to focus more on providing services than on providing products. A product — an app that customers download and use by themselves — will give you 99 cents for every download. Services give you recurring income month after month.
For example, Propeller Health, which makes an IoT product for those with respiratory problems, follows the dictum of using data to offer more value for its sensors. The sensors keep track of your medication use and give you a report on where and when you used, say, your asthma medication. These reports give you insights that can help you manage your asthma — telling you where and when you use your inhaler, for instance, so that you can learn to avoid that trigger. The sensors can also remind you to take your medications and track your symptoms.
But this is not a product you simply buy and use. It is part of a doctor-initiated management program. The advantage for doctors is not only that it helps provide better health care; it can also reduce the cost of that care by reducing emergency room visits. Doctors pay a $10-$15 monthly fee to get their patients on Propeller Health, thereby allowing them to monitor their patients and help them manage their condition.
Use the latest tools and technologies
The good news for app developers looking to get into the IoT is that they have a variety of development and deployment choices. You can use any programming language from Ruby to Java. You also have a variety of platforms at your disposal, such as Android, QNX, Oracle Java, Tizen, and Windows Embedded. You can use the cloud to connect to the IoT.
With AllJoyn, you get a software framework and a basic set of services that make interoperability possible. It runs on Android, iOS, Windows, and Linux. What does this mean for you? It guarantees that your applications will be usable on another device. And it will ensure that your devices will be able to work with other devices. Think about having an app that would be able to control the garage door and the thermostat as soon as you pull into the driveway.
When it comes to the Internet of Things, app developers do not need to unlearn the things they learned creating mobile apps. But they do need to work smarter to make sure they can cope with the upsurge of opportunities brought about by the IoT. This means looking for more functionality that is anchored on the data being gathered by the devices they target. Plus, they have to know and use the latest technologies to make their development easier and faster.