Extending Mobile Apps to Wearables and Finding the Sweet Spot in AR/VR Development – 2016 Developer Summit Session Preview
This January will be our tenth Developer Summit, which is held each year right before the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The reason AT&T throws a Developer Summit each year is to provide guidance to our community based on platforms and technologies we are launching (or from one of our fellow travelers).
Top executives deliver major announcements in a keynote at the event, and there are sessions immediately following that go into more detail about the news. I usually use my session to provide details, guidance, and trends. Here are some trends and predictions I covered in the past:
- Ubiquity of Location-Based Services: This seems obvious now, but back in 2008 when we first made our location API available it was not so obvious how widely LBS would grow beyond navigation.
- Platform Consolidation: At one point, there were nine different mobile platforms (Android, Blackberry, Brew, iOS, Java, Linux, Palm, Symbian, and Windows). In the history of platforms, it is typical for there to be fragmentation at the start followed by consolidation.
- Pricing Pressure: I noticed that the large application stores had the makings of a perfect market (perfect info, no market power to set prices, low barriers to entry/exit, equal access to factors of production, etc.). A big feature of perfect market theory is normal profits—that is just enough to induce devs to support apps to satisfy customer demand. You could see after this the continued pricing pressure and the challenge for many new apps to get traction and find profitability.
Wearables: Identifying the Right Opportunities for Developers
This Summit, my presentation is focusing on Developing for Wearables, IoT, and Beyond. Most people would say that this development work is off to a slow start and that devs are waiting for that killer device before really jumping in. According to Strategy Analytics, of the top 200 applications in the App Store, less than 5 percent are supported on Apple Watch. Many are probably familiar with the Technology Hype Cycle and it is pretty clearly this technology is in the trough of disillusionment. The presentation will cover what the slope of enlightenment will look like and some thoughts on developer opportunities with wearables.
With wearables/IoT, I think initially there will be two distinct paths that developers can choose: one well trodden path where there may be a lot of competition and then a less popular path that may be more difficult, but could offer unique benefits. It should be no surprise that a popular path will be to create apps for Android or iOS wearables. Both platforms have made it straightforward to extend existing apps to smart devices. They are making it easy for developers to extend their apps to other platforms and to also link them together with watches (although Google Glass development was more complex).
Discoverability is a challenge. Like with any emerging platform, there are new applications that approach a technology in innovative fashion and often have a chance to be successful. In this case, the platform player has put a large emphasis on making development easy, but perhaps with the result that the most clever ideas are lost in the shuffle
Let us look at Android Wear. Google views development as just an extension of mobile work. The focus is on notifications, speech integration, and sensor connectivity. The company has made adding notifications straightforward:
1. Uese class notificationCompat.Builder2. Import the packages by adding compile “com.android.support-v:20.0.+” to the build.gradle file a. import android.support.v4.app.NotificationCompat b. import android.support.v4.app.NotificationManagerCompat c. import android.support.v4.app.NotificationCompat.WearableExtender3. Create your instance of notificationCompat.Builder by passing it to notify ()4. The user will read notification by invoking PendingIntent.5. If the developer wants to add other actions, they can pass PendingIntent to the add Action() method.
Additionally, developers can create actions for the wearable distinct from those on the handheld and add features (like enabling speech response)—and even that is not difficult to do. Speech can be difficult to do, but Google also has made that easier using RemoteInput. It’s logical that Google makes this simple for developers—expecting that sensor connectivity will likely be the best source of innovation.
The Next Frontier: Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality
Contrasting this is virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR), which is a huge segment within the wearables field. It is projected to reach $150B by 2020. This technology represents a good example with wearables of a more difficult path.
There are several platforms heavily investing in the VR/AR segment. This includes Facebook Oculus, Google, Microsoft HoloLens, Samsung, HTC Vive, Magic Leap, Lensar, Jaunt, Merge and more. There are also several companies creating VR/AR building blocks like Qualcomm, Movidius, AMD, and more. As new segments take off, it is common for there to be fragmentation with many platforms. In particular, it is amazing the differences in the physical devices—from really immersive to those that are more comfortable.
A fast moving segment like this offers developers with great challenges and opportunities. One of the best paths to success is when a developer has a great solution on a fast growing platform. This is an obvious statement, but the big question is how can developers select which of these tougher paths to take? I am seeing that some devices seem to fit certain niches better. This could provide some direction for application developers. A few examples follow, but you can see how other devices could also fit:
- Facebook Oculus: For those who have not tried this, it is an amazing immersive experience and will be a great platform for serious gamers. What I thought was particularly interesting at the last CES was hardware that was already being built to support it, like the Virtuix Omni that allows gamers to walk and move within the game. I am curious to the extent that Facebook expects users to wear this a lot for social interactions or media, but we will see.
- Microsoft Hololens: This is a lighter AR device that seems well suited for enterprise applications. If you look at the use cases on the Hololens site, it features the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Case Western.
- Lensar: This AR device is focused strictly on cataract laser. This is interesting because there could be a range of devices for a specific use case needing specialized software.
- Samsung Gear VR: At a $99 (plus cost of a phone), they are clearly targeting the mainstream users with a mix of content and more casual games and apps.
- Google Cardboard: This is great for hobbyists and a good way for anyone interested in developing for VR to test it out (and there are now lots of different cardboard devices people can purchase). Google clearly has wider interests in space, as evidenced with the next platform.
- Magic Leap: Although there’s not a lot known about this device, it certainly has garnered attention since the company received $542 million from Google; so there should be some developer opportunity here. Whereas other technologies use stereoscopic 3D, Magic Leap’s technology creates 3D images by projecting light directly into the user’s eyes. If developers are interested, there is a form they can fill out on site and they will get back to you.
Outside of just coding, I think there is a challenge of how to really use VR/AR to the fullest extend. I was reading an article the other day about the Oculus founder Palmer Luckey. He started his VR work when he was just 17, and one thought around why he was so successful was that he was not limited by development restraints. He was able to approach the technology with totally open eyes. To some extent, I hope as developers move from mobile to VR/AR they can approach this with the fresh perspective of a 17 year old.
Following the section on development options, I will talk some about best practices and what I feel are the best opportunities for developers in the near future. I hope some of you attend the Developer Summit and can come to my session on Developing for Wearables, IoT, and Beyond!
For more articles on AR, VR, and all things video, see our new AT&T Video and VR site.