Throughout the history of computer platforms, size has mattered. The room sized ENIAC and Colossus helped the Allied Military win World War II. The mini-computers of the late 1960s and 1970s shrunk the power of mainframes to the size of a large cabinet. Then microcomputers of the late 70s and 80s shrunk computers down to the size of a breadbox and brought them into our homes. The PDAs of the late 90s and early 2000s put information into our palms, and mobile platforms of the late 2000s gave us a 24/7 connection with each other.
With each of these platform evolutions, software developers have needed to learn to adapt to the new strengths and limitations. In the 80s a home computer would have seemed like a huge step backwards to a developer used to writing C on a PDP-11, but overcoming those limitations lead to revolutions in the software industry like VisiCalc, spreadsheets, word processing, and the home computer revolution.
More recently wearable software platforms have emerged, and with them have come new strengths and limitations. One of the biggest challenges of wearable platforms is answering the definitive “why.” Why write software for the wrist? The challenges of the platform – limited screen size, limited input, limited resources, and limited battery – combined with the lack of analog to other kinds of software platforms make it very difficult for developers to find reasons to enter into the wearable app space.
Making it more confusing are the platforms themselves. Some see the wearable as a smart phone extension, to the point that the wearable features are tethered to the phone. Other wearable platforms only speak and interact with certain phone platforms.
Steve Jobs was famous in bringing design and computers together. Apple’s iconic designs across the years – the original Macintosh, the iPod, and the iPhone – all communicate a sense of the user’s aesthetic to their peers. Wearable platforms take this kind of design even further. Now the device is not just a software platform, but part of the user’s sense of style. Wearables marry both engineering and fashion challenges together. Battery life is critically important on wearable platforms, but an electrical design can’t simply make the battery bigger because the battery would be too big and detract from the device aesthetic. Use of metals can interfere with antennas that the device uses to communicate with the outside.
Over time, a few killer apps for wearables have emerged. The ability to read smart phone notifications on your wrist helps users deal with the barrage of notifications that make up our connected lives. Wearables also make other kinds of information viewable at a glance. For example, the Accuweather Connect IQ minute cast application provides fast access to the next 120 minutes of weather for your location.
Some believe that a wearable’s purpose is just to be a mobile phone extension, but there are other strengths wearables have away from the phone. Some of the biggest are in the areas of wellness. Social activity tracking has brought gamification to health by letting users compete with their friends on step challenges.
The ability to monitor heart rate and other biometric data has given users a better look into their personal health. Connect IQ gives developers access, via a permissions protected model, to the wellness data on the device and allows them to create their own gamified apps. For example, the Step Monkey app combines activity tracking and a Tamagotchi. In the app, you feed your monkey by meeting your step goal, and over time the monkey emerges from a gift box and grows full size.
Fitness apps allow for athletes to track their improvement as they train. Garmin has been making wearables for runners since 2006, and has expanded the functionality to cover many sports including swimming, cycling, hiking, and even stand up paddle boarding. Connect IQ expands the already available functionality by allowing developers to create data fields that users can install into their workout experience. Some of the functionality can be as simple as showing the user how many beers they can have after their workout and still be calorie neutral. Other apps allow communication with additional sensors over ANT and record the workout data for later analysis. Baron Biosystems has created a number of applications that allow for cyclists to maximize their training. These tools let the user measure their improvement and train to their peak.
Watch faces often get dismissed as a novelty, but what is often overlooked is their ability for personal expression. Garmin wearables use a technology that allows the screen to always stay on, making the screen not just an area for information but self-expression. The new Face-It application lets users make photo watch faces, bringing personalization to checking the time. For people who are more data-centric, the Connect IQ store has hundreds of watch faces that combine the time, date, step count, step goal, temperature and many other metrics together.
The thing about these great apps is that you don’t see them coming until you realize you can’t live without them. Wearables, with various built-in radios, biometric data and interfaces accessible with the flick of a wrist are natural for Internet of Things and home automation applications. Imagine lights that turn on when you wake up in the middle of the night, or using your watch to unlock your door. Advances in bio-sensors will create an internet of self – a network of sensors that monitor the body and feed into new athletic training, wellness and health care. The wearable space is currently a wild west, waiting for a software cowboy to tame it with the next great app. Maybe that cowboy is you.
About Connect IQ:
Connect IQ launched early in 2015 with the goal of making Garmin devices open to the developer ecosystem and subsequently to consumers for personalizing their devices. Since the launch of Connect IQ last year Garmin has launched many more Connect IQ enabled wearables in addition to the first compatible bike computer and handheld GPS unit. The new SDK just launched last month as well, check it out here! For more information on Connect IQ please see this overview page.
For decades, Garmin has pioneered new GPS navigation and wireless devices and applications that are designed for people who live an active lifestyle. Garmin serves five primary business units, including automotive, aviation, fitness, marine, and outdoor recreation. For more information about Garmin, visit our virtual pressroom at garmin.com/newsroom, contact the Media Relations department at 913-397-8200, or follow us at facebook.com/garmin, twitter.com/garmin, or youtube.com/garmin.