Wearables and other internet-of-things (IoT) devices are becoming increasingly popular. For instance, one-in-five Americans wear a smartwatch. These devices typically connect to smartphone apps that collect data, communicate with cloud microservices, and visualize data. However, merging IoT and smartphones creates unique challenges.
Let's take a look at four unique challenges and how to build a team with the right skill sets to develop IoT mobile apps.
#1. Determine Native vs. Hybrid
#1. Determine Native vs. Hybrid
Many mobile developers specialize in iOS (Swift) or Android (Java), while others use hybrid frameworks like React Native. In many cases, the decision between hybrid and native apps boils down to quality and time-to-market. However, some apps require native-only features or need native-only performance, eliminating the possibility of a hybrid app.
You must decide between a native and mobile app before building your team since they require different skillsets. While a mobile app for a smart thermostat may only visualize data, a smartwatch might require Bluetooth connectivity and process data. As a result, smartwatches may need native functionality and eliminate the possibility of a hybrid app.
#2. Assess Data Science Needs
Most mobile developers have experience building "CRUD" apps—or apps that create, read, update, or delete data in a database. However, businesses that leverage cloud microservices, machine learning, or other advanced technologies may require senior-level app developers or separate data science team members.
Many internet-of-things devices generate large volumes of data that must be uploaded to cloud services and crunched into actionable insights. For example, a smartwatch might measure a person's heartbeat every few minutes, calculate a resting heart rate, and then compare the resting heart rate to other biometrics to assess health.
#3. Speed & Connectivity Are Key
Mobile developers working on internet-of-things devices should also be familiar with connectivity challenges. For example, if an IoT device connects to a smartphone, it may use BLE connectivity rather than cellular or WiFi networks. Adding a WiFi or cellular antenna to a tiny IoT device is no small feat, given its footprint.
Establishing BLE connections with IoT devices involves unique challenges. The most common challenges involve transferring large files or streaming real-time data. For example, developers may need to break apart payloads into 20-byte chunks and send them at 30ms intervals while developing the appropriate error handling if things go awry.
#4. Don't Neglect Privacy & Security
Most mobile apps live in walled gardens on iOS or Android devices, which simplifies security from a developer standpoint. However, while Apple and Google have BLE protocols in place, the security best practices for these processes differ from conventional apps. As a result, it's critical to find developers with the right security mindset.
Most common mobile security threats. Source: TechTarget
There are also plenty of vulnerabilities in conventional mobile apps. According to Intertrust, more than 80% of mobile applications have at least one security flaw, and you can find vulnerabilities in over 90% of app store apps. These vulnerabilities include everything from insecure API usage to harmful malware compromising user data.
Tips to Build the Right Team
Building a mobile development team is challenging even if you don’t need niche expertise. As we’ve seen above, building an IoT application requires specific expertise that’s not readily available in the labor market. The good news is that there are some strategies that you can use to reduce cost while still ensuring a high level of quality.
Some critical considerations include:
Assess your existing development team and identify their skillsets and potential opportunities to upskill in data science and other relevant areas to meet IoT app requirements. However, keep in mind that these skills may take time to fine-tune.
Work with your IoT engineering team to determine the best approach to sharing data. For instance, GoPro creates its own hotspot while Amazon Alexa connects to a home's WiFi. Simpler sharing may help eliminate mobile app expertise requirements.
Evaluate hiring new developers in-house versus outsourcing development of certain features. For instance, you may have iOS developers familiar with BLE connectivity but require external Android developers to create a Java-based companion app.
Consider bringing in a single expert to inform your whole team. For instance, a senior-level developer may be able to navigate complex development requirements, while a data scientist may be valuable to determine the best data analytics infrastructure.
Consider Outsourcing Development
Internet-of-things apps require a unique set of skills, including cloud DevOps, data science, mobile development, and performance engineering. Rather than building an entire team from scratch, it might make more sense to outsource the project to experienced partners that have in-depth knowledge in these areas.
Intent is a software design and engineering firm operating at the intersection of physical and digital. Our team has delivered connected device projects to the market for over a decade, including work on the Oura Ring, an advanced IoT wearable device. In particular, we helped bring the Android app in line with their existing iOS app.
In addition to IoT experience, our UX and UI experts create a smooth and consistent user experience while our backend and cloud teams establish a high level of performance and a minimal risk of errors reaching production users. Whether you’re launching a new app version or starting from scratch, our team can help maximize your odds of success.
If you're interested in working with Intent, contact us for a free consultation and learn how we can help bring your IoT app to market at a fraction of the cost of hiring a dedicated team.
The Bottom Line
Internet-of-things devices are becoming ubiquitous across individuals and businesses. However, since many of these devices don't have an interface, they require connectivity to smartphone applications. As a result, developing these apps comes with a unique set of challenges that may require some internal hiring or outsourcing.
intent has a lot of experience building IoT mobile apps, making us a natural partner for businesses seeking a great user experience.
Contact us to discuss your project and learn how we can help.