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Ikanos: Wearable computing and the apps ecosystem


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Tim Ferguson

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The world of wearable computing was given a huge boost with the arrival of Google Glass, and the focus has now turned to the potential opportunity for app developers.

According to a recent survey by Appcelerator and IDC, interest in Google Glass is at a similar level to that of smart TVs, despite the fact that as yet it is not available as a mass-market, commercial product.

Wearable technology has seen some success in areas such as fitness and health, with products such as the Fitbit Flex and Nike+ FuelBand allowing users to set fitness targets by tracking their activity and monitoring calories burned during the day.

But little progress has been made in other consumer areas and the enterprise due to customer perception issues and difficulties in creating products that are easy to use and wear.

ikanos-lance-chambersIkanos Consulting is trying to break into the enterprise market for wearable computing with its Golden-i headset, and so has been keeping a close eye on recent developments.

And Lance Chambers, commercial manager for the company (pictured), is confident that the technology will take off soon.

“The use of wearable computing will increase dramatically in the next two to five years, with a big drive in both consumer and enterprise solutions,” he told Mobile World Live.

Chambers went on to discuss the future development of this market, the opportunities for developers, and the challenges that lie ahead.

Building momentum

The main obstacle is selling the concept, according to Chambers, who said it “needs to be understood and adopted by users, just as the smartphone had to be in the early part of the last decade”.

Although people are naturally sceptical about the effectiveness of voice-controlled devices or those controlled by body movements, Chambers said the technology “is advancing at an incredible rate”.

The introduction of wearable products from major players such as Google and Sony, and rumoured gadgets from Apple and Samsung, will also help raise awareness in the mass market.

Showing the importance of such products to major technology companies, Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president for Android, Chrome and Google Apps, said the company is preparing Android for the next generation of computing, including smart watches.

“We want to set ourselves up to be consistent, to update across all these devices and to have a common user experience across these devices,” Pichai told the audience at a recent conference.

Chambers noted: “The introduction of new devices from companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft raises awareness of wearable computing, particularly in the consumer space, which is fantastic for the market in general.”

The developer opportunity

This is a significant trend that developers can exploit, Chambers said. “Mobile app developers have a real opportunity with wearable computing to push the boundaries of what is possible and to define new ways of interfacing with computers.”

One such opportunity comes through looking at how existing apps could be enhanced with support for the new technology.

But while the possibilities are endless, they will require developers to rethink how things have been done in the past, “whether it’s viewing a map, sending an email or making a call”.

Wearable computing also unlocks new concepts that weren’t previously possible: “We now have the technology to actually impact on the user’s sense of the world around them, providing information on the fly, and keeping their hands free,” he said.

Challenges ahead

There will undoubtedly be challenges in making apps that truly exploit the potential of wearable hardware.

Providing “a usable, simple interface” will provide a major challenge as developers work out how to interact with devices without the use of a touchscreen, mouse or keyboard.

Making the most of the new opportunities, while maintaining a “sense of familiarity for users,” will also be tricky, according to Chambers.

“A user might be willing to move away from a touch environment, but that sense of ‘pressing a button’, or ‘scrolling’ on a page needs to be bridged in such a way that the user accepts the technology as smoothly as possible.”

Developers should focus on producing “simple and user-friendly” software as overcomplicated apps could put users off, he advised.

The future ecosystem

Currently in its infancy, Chambers said the ecosystem will only develop once people experience early products such as Google Glass. “This will give us the ability to develop mobile apps that complement and interact with new wearable technology platforms,” he said.

The development of apps that work in tandem with tablets in smartphones will make the transition “easier and smoother”.

Once this has been achieved, a standalone wearable computing ecosystem will develop, with less dependence on the companion tablet or smartphone devices, he said.

Bearing all of this in mind, Chambers urged developers to focus on adding value to their products to provide something different and new that they can’t experience on existing mobile devices.

“This will enable end users to use and accept wearable technology platforms in the most cost effective way,” he explained.

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  • Leesa John

    Wearable technology offers a whole new world of experiences, brand building and brave new technology frontiers. Right now, wearables have neither the form, function or fashion to become viable commercial products. Awaiting the arrival of Golden-i headset in the market.