PARTNER GUEST POST: Intersog is a Chicago-based provider of mobile software development services.

The smart technological revolution has now entered its wearable technology phase. People have been experimenting with “wearables” for much longer than the term existed, but this year has seen this segment reach a tipping point. Today, we have products like the Apple Watch, FitBit, HoloLens, Pebble, Google Glass and this is just the beginning.

Although the wearable industry is currently experiencing a little boom, developers are facing several challenges. Building practical wearables is difficult because of the various functionalities associated with it. As a result, this relatively new technology will require new APIs and new apps that enhance the human experience.

The Challenges

The challenges faced by app developers essentially mirror those of handheld devices. Wearables have only put the spotlight on these issues. If you think about it, there isn’t much difference when it comes to the following:

Battery life in wearable technology is extremely scarce, even on devices like Pebble that always have the screen on. As a result, developers need to keep this in mind when embarking on developing a wearable application.

Smaller screen size (along with multiple screen sizes), types, and shapes make it necessary to have user experience to adapt to each device.  Android Wear supports squared or round screens and Pebble has an e-paper display. Further, Pebble needs a totally adapted UI designed for the black and white display.

Limited computing power goes hand in hand with these small devices as size does matter. So developers have limited options and need to be especially creative with their app development.

Another hurdle is the fact that wearables are not yet as popular as smartphones. There is no mass appeal for these products as yet and they are not expected to have a major impact (for now). It’s still an emerging field and it will take time to achieve mass adoption.

Wearable Software is Fragmented

The difference between wearables and handheld devices is its intended purpose. Wearables are designed to provide faster interaction that is condensed to view at a glance. As a result, fragmentation tends to take place when hardware and software fail to operate at a consistently high level. Further, the current market only offers a limited number of software and hardware combinations.

No Established API   

Without the existence of a standard API, all coding of features will have to take place individually. As a result this sometimes leads to issues with adapting business logic and synchronicity. Whenever a new device is added to the catalogue, it will require a repeat of the same operations. There are several operating systems, but there isn’t an industry standard. Further, there isn’t any cross-platform development currently taking place.

We haven’t seen established APIs because they are still in a development phase (however there are several ways to integrate). Google is currently developing their Android wearable software development kit. Further, there is NTT Docomo’s Device Connect WebAPI (essentially to link devices). GitHub is also currently sharing the API as open software to enhance both technical specifications and API for mass commercialization.

What Does the Future Hold?

In the immediate future, it seems like wearables will take off in the health and finance sectors. For example, Apple released its HealthKit which is a developer tool to make it easier to access health related data from wearable devices via a central repository.  Google on the other hand has released Google Fit which similarly lets developers access health data from Android gadgets and apps.

According to Juniper Research, the health related wearables industry will reach $53 billion in four years. So you can expect a lot of developers to be focusing on this wearable segment. Some of the popular health related wearables are as follows:

  • Agamatrix Blood Glucose Meter
  • ADAMM (Automated Device for Asthma Monitoring and Management)
  • HealthPatch MD (quit smoking)
  • Quell (nerve stimulation)
  • Valedo (for back pain)

Although the health sector is expected to see some growth, there is also a chance of it competing directly with other consumer wearables like FitBit.

The finance sector will also see a rise in the use of wearables in the industry. The introduction of Apple Pay along with the Apple Watch seems to point in this direction. Further, banks like CaixaBank and Barclays already have their own payment-capable bracelets.

What developers need to address when building health and finance apps is security and privacy. Tackling these crucial issues will be key to growing this segment in the marketplace.   

Finally, when it comes to design and manufacturing, it’s quite difficult to design and source from a hardware perspective. The phrase “hardware is the new software” is heard pretty often and remains true for wearables (and it will be interesting to see how this industry evolves). 

Have you ever developed a wearable app? What has been your experience? Please share your experience in comments!