We have been seeing a trend recently within organisations for building mobile apps that meet not just specific use cases but also specific device form factors that suit those use cases.
For example there is a utility company that has created an app for its field engineers that have been given 7inch Android tablets. A soft drinks distribution company built an app for its engineers that were each given an iPhone. These form factors suited these use cases better than any other and so the apps only had to run on those specific devices. This is opposed to trying to build an app that runs on everything.
At CES earlier this year we saw many of the next generation of form factors referred to as wearables. These devices can be worn on different parts of the body and serve a variety of needs from communication to healthcare.
Are wearables B2C or B2E?
Perhaps the most well-known wearable is not yet in the market and that’s Google Glass. Glass is eyewear that presents the user with a small display that is able to provide information on demand or via push. Glass has captured the imagination and there have been a number of stories related to it over recent months highlighting potential pros (hands free communication) to cons (getting arrested).
What has been interesting is the stories about specific industries doing some early concept work with Glass. Healthcare is one of the most common examples of an industry where workers often need both hands free but could benefit from having information either fed directly to them (visually) or send visual information somewhere else. These are further examples of use cases being married with specific form factors.
Organisations have struggled with mobile development through lack of skills, tools and experience. This new generation of wearable form factors only adds to that challenge. For a development team that has spent many years working on traditional desktop client software the mobile device is difficult enough but wearable tech is an even scarier proposition.
We asked an expert
To understand how challenging these form factors will be to work with we spoke with Amish Gandhi, Founder and Principle of Perpetual a New York City based company that has been working with Glass for the last 12 months. Amish kindly agreed to share some of his findings and thoughts with us in a CIC podcast.
The conversation covered technical, design and where the market for products such as Glass may be in the short term. It was on this latter point that Amish saw the immediate future of wearables in industry rather than the consumer space where so many are being pitched. The reasons for this include initial lack of availability of devices, high prices and social factors. Whilst Perpetual has been working with consumer brands they will face challenges.
For example how much will a company be prepared to invest in a project for which there will initially be a very small customer base. There are also competitors to Glass such as devices from Epson and the Meta Pro. Each of these will require their own unique app and each may only have a very small number of users (compared to more mainstream devices). Will this deliver much of an ROI given the number of apps that a company may have to build?
Amish discussed the technical and design considerations which whilst initially may seem complicated his company found reasonably straight forward. He explained the Glass timeline and card approach which is perhaps the most complex concept to grasp. He also talked about the different approaches for developing for Glass and how they had to take an iterative design approach, learning as they went. The process comes across as being less daunting than some might first think.
The biggest challenges seemed less technical and more design with such a very small screen size to work with. A key take away was the importance of actually having access to the hardware. Whilst emulators (Google provides a browser based emulator) are useful for some rapid development when it comes to creating the overall experience actual hardware is essential. It was great to hear from Amish whose experiences over the last year put him at the very forefront of the next wave of device development.
Whilst Perpetual were able to adapt to Glass relatively easy one has to question how easy grasping such a new concept will be for more traditional development teams. If the (immediate) future of wearables lies within enterprise development teams who are already challenged by mobile will they be able to adapt. Moreover can Google provide the type of support that such organisations need to deliver the levels of quality and reliability that apps used in say healthcare will require? Google’s ability to support customer development teams either directly or through partners will prove critical to their broader enterprise strategy.
One technology, many form factors
An interesting recent development is the number of providers of hybrid mobile tooling that have already released Glass capabilities. Returning to the issue of organisations building for use cases we are seeing an increasing interest in hybrid development in this space. By adopting a hybrid approach as discussed in a recent CIC report organisations will be able to target numerous form factors without having to shift tools and technologies. Instead they will be able to focus on the most important success factor in all device development, user experience.