I was talking with friends today about the whole notion of wearable technology and soon stumbled upon the following important question, "What does a consultancy actually bring to the table in terms of wearable technologies?"
My opinion is that it is not about writing software for Google Glass, which seems to be the first thing anybody does at the mention of wearable technology. I mean firstly it is not (officially) on sale in Europe inside a retail outlet and secondly it does not actually have an official App Store. I believe it is more about the hardware, the life cycle maintenance for wearable software and the supporting ecosystems. I also believe it is about the creative experiences that showcase the kinds of M2M scenarios that the film Terminator demonstrated. I aim to use the rest of this Blog to explain this argument clearly.
Firstly, it was interesting to see Samsung using Tizen as the operating system for their Gear 2 wearable devices. I have long mooted that it make little sense to have full operating systems on wearable devices and mobile handset vendors seem to want to keep their actual devices in the loop (the iCar and iWatch are both rumoured to work with an iPhone). If the iWatch ever appears then will it be running iOS 7.1? Even if it was running iOS 7.1 then I doubt you would build Apps using the same UI capabilities as for a standard phone or tablet. I would wager that the mobile device will continue to act as an arbitrator between the wearable device and the Internet (of Things) for some time to come and that the wearable devices will be running lightweight operating systems. In which case surely Ubuntu Mobile, Tizen and Firefox OS will make a play.
If that is indeed the case then the whole development cycle and life cycle maintenance of wearable device Apps is going to be a little bit different than before. It will be more constrained, but not in the earlier definition of the word, when wearable displays could only effectively display a pre-processed bitmap image. I would suggest that the Mobile Consumer Application Platform (MCAP) or Portable Native vendors who are geared up to supporting new operating systems quickly will be able to offer support for wearable devices faster than any other toolset vendor.
Proof of the pudding would appear to be Appcelerator's Titanium platform which already offers Tizen support. Whilst disappointingly Samsung say they will not commit to a Tizen powered mobile handset in 2014, at Mobile World Congress they most definitely did commit to Tizen powered wearable devices. Likewise, Marmalade supports the Tizen operating system, although this technology is predominantly (but not exclusively) used by game developers.
I would therefore conclude as my first point, that a consultancy wanting to get into the wearable technology space should first of all have a good knowledge of the MCAP / portable native platforms that are available to support both portability and the fast creation of applications for the wearable device market.
SkyNet is not the only solution of course, but it is the best Blueprint I have seen so far and it is MIT licenced and available on GitHub today.
Here are two very cool 60 second videos of the Team SkyNet demonstrating their Internet of Things:
1. Bluetooth Low Energy integration. They appear to be messaging some custom built Pebble-type watch.
2. Voice control. They have a voice controlled remote lamp that can be called from a standard telephone.
Each connected device has its own 36 character UUID and a secret token. These device credentials are required for authenticating and communicating with SkyNet. They also have TLS certificates available on the network by the time you read this. SkyNet can be deployed as a Private Cloud (in your enterprise or even in your home on a Raspberry Pi). SkyNet networks also have UUIDs and can forward messages to other SkyNet networks. You can also encrypt your messages if needed for additional security. SkyNet currently supports 3 protocols over TCP (HTTP(S), WS/S, and MQTT). They will be adding CoAP (a UDP protocol) this quarter for real-time communication. MQTT and CoAP are optimised protocols for constrained devices. They are also working on a SkyNet Gateway device that can run in your home or office to communicate with local devices such as Nests, Phillips Hues, Wemos, Insteons, etc. The Gateway (and indeed SkyNet) are all open source and designed to support any protocol or transport layer.
If the right level of security can be applied by using acceptable levels of encryption and the Node.js implementation can be moved to nice Mobile Back End as a Service then you have a secure, scalable and maintainable Internet of Things. We often hear about REST being used but wearable devices introduces us to both Bluetooth Low Energy and Constrained RESTful environments (CoRE). It was in fact the CoRE Working Group that did the major standardization work for CoAP. I am sure instead of mobile architecture diagrams with JSON and REST, you will soon be seeing Bluetooth Low Energy and Constrained REST appearing on wearable architecture diagrams.
I would therefore conclude as a second point, that a consultancy needs to have a good idea of appropriate ecosystems that can match their customer's requirements.
The final point was inspired when I saw the SkyNet Team building a Pebble-Watch-Replica from scratch, a light bulb that could be controlled by voice and talking about voice controlled drones. I have to wager that hardware skills are going to be just as important as software skills - at least in the Innovation and Proof of Concept stage. The final piece of the puzzle for a consultancy then is to bring some level of hardware skills to the table.
In summary, in my view you should not be looking for a consultancy who can purely write Google Glass 'Apps'. Instead you should be looking for a consultancy who can offer you the following: tools for the life cycle management of software on wearable devices; solution architecture around supporting ecosystems for wearable device integration; and even the ability to design custom hardware for innovation projects.
Senior Analyst, Digital Transformation Cognizant
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.