August 27, 2014
The popularity of applications is no longer limited to the smartphone. As the wearable smart device market grows, apps are proliferating everywhere. The Pebble smartwatch – an indie Kickstarter project for hobbyists and popular with early adopters – already has 3,000 apps in its store.
Third-party app ecosystems are also emerging for Google Glass. Many of the most popular apps have been ported over to the Glass platform, including Yelp, FourSquare and Facebook.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch, which sold more than 500,000 units, supports apps through its own operating system. And recently at Google IO, LG and Motorola announced two new smartwatches which run Android apps.
The sheer popularity of apps is undeniable.
Flurry recently reported that mobile Web usage on smartphones, which was already small at 20 percent, actually declined in 2014 to 16 percent.
With the emergence of wearables, it is going to be apps that link users to the Internet, not the browser-based world we are all familiar with on the PC. This has big implications for business, and not just media and advertising.
Apps evolved differently from the Web
The Web was built on a simple system that made it easy for anyone to make a Web site. And everyone did, from the White House all the way down to your corner deli.
As the Web grew in popularity, it took on an incredibly democratic tone.
But utopian visions of Internet hyper democracy were quickly crushed under a sea of spam emails, malware, phishing scams, copyright infringement and a general lack of usability – because there is no single governing body that could impose any standards and create consistency across Web sites.
Having witnessed the Wild West world of the Web, the mobile Internet was determined to evolve differently.
Wireless carriers gated the mobile Internet around their own content. Devices such as Sidekick launched with apps built in and limited web browsing support.
When the iOS and Android app ecosystems emerged, the platform operators put standards and policies in place to help prevent the chaos that still plagues the Web today.
Prepare for the wearable app explosion
The popularity of apps created an entirely new and different ecosystem from the web, and end users love it. Why?
Apps have a reputation for being easy to use, efficient and more secure, when compared to the Web.
It is also important to note that content in the app ecosystem was given a much greater value than it was on the Web, platform operators were able to get users to pay for music, movies and games.
This made it possible for developers to build pure-play app content companies, the best example being Angry Birds that built a licensing empire off its successful smartphone game franchise. This never emerged on the Web.
Wearable apps will extend these trends across a wide variety of devices and the smartphone will remain as the hub. New features, data and access from wearable devices will enable new types of exciting apps to emerge.
Google Glass has shown real promise in the business-to-business arena, with a variety of medical, cooking and security applications being tested.
In Dubai police are testing Glass apps for traffic enforcement.
On the consumer side, the smartwatch has found a core market with hobbiest and tech enthusiasts, with thousands of apps having been developed specifically for them. Most are games and entertainment apps.
FitBit, Nike FuelBand and Jawbone Up lead the fitness tracking segment and while none of these devices currently support third-party apps directly on the device. They do support app integration on the smartphone and those ecosystems are growing fast, with more than 50 apps interfacing with those devices.
Big opportunities and big challenges
As the volume of wearables sold increases, big opportunities will emerge for app developers just like they did on the smartphone.
The mobile app space saw some amazing success stories such as WhatsApp and Instagram, for example. Challenges do remain: battery life, interface design and, of course, wearable app distribution.
I AM CONFIDENT that the opportunity for wearable app developers in next three to five years will be as big or bigger than the smartphone.
The most interesting opportunities will be the ones where developers take advantage of the unique features and extend the best of the smartphone experience to wearable devices.
Gregory Kennedy is senior vice president of marketing at TapSense, San Francisco. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.