Overview of Wearable Development Platforms

Technology is rapidly changing, and today’s latest device becomes completely outdated in a flash. In such a dynamic and emerging tech environment, developers might get somewhat confused. We all want to find the best avenues to channel our learning and development efforts.

Many technologists believe that the golden age of smartphones is
nearing its end. A whole new batch of hi-tech wearable devices are
about to replace smartphones in the near future. What would these technologies
and devices look like? Wearables can range in size from watches through to smart glasses and smart rings. Every day, they are becoming
smaller in size and are boosting their performance too.

These devices have already started to redefine user interaction
patterns, user behaviour, and sometimes even the user’s lifestyle. In
this article, you’ll learn about the latest emerging wearable device
platforms for which you could develop apps.

1. Smartwatches

Although smartwatches are the obvious next step, it took a while for them to challenge the dominant position of smartphones. That was mainly due to interaction problems associated with the small screen size and poor battery life. 

Most smartwatches started out as a “companion” to a smartphone. However, things are changing really fast. Several standalone smartwatches that don’t need to pair with a smartphone are available now. The latest innovations have enhanced and refined the user interaction and user experience to a great extent.

If you want to develop for a smartwatch platform, you might consider one of the following.

1.1 Android Wear

Android Wear is one of the leading smartwatch platforms. Its latest version, Android Wear 2.0, has eliminated many problems of the previous versions and comes with some really cool features. The smartwatches powered by this platform can now function as standalone devices, meaning that they don’t have to rely on a smartphone anymore. The UI has become more refined, more readable, and easier to navigate than ever before. It also features a full QWERTY keyboard so that the user can type on the device itself. The coolest thing is that it can directly access the Google Play store, without relying on a smartphone for the connection. 

So it’s clear that Android Wear offers great opportunities for developers to explore. You could start developing either watch faces or other
Android Wear apps. You are free to experiment with a broad range of
supported sensors, including Bluetooth, WiFi, LTE, GPS, NFC, and the heart
rate sensor. Android Wear 2.0 now even supports third-party input
methods. So if you’ve been thinking of developing an innovative soft
keyboard for the watch, this may be the time for it.

1.2 Apple Watch

Apple Watch’s latest model, Series 3, has two variants. Only one has the optional LTE cellular connectivity, but both are equipped with onboard GPS. While one of them permits a standalone mode, both are optimized to be used together with a smartphone. You could come up with some weird and innovative app ideas to make use of the built-in GPS, LTE connectivity, altimeter and Siri, the voice assistant. 

Apple has also recently released watchOS 4, the latest version of its wearable OS. They have also fixed some bugs and issues, especially related to LTE connectivity. You don’t have to worry much about linking it to the external world and can focus more on your app development business.

1.3 Samsung Gear S Series

While Tizen isn’t as popular as Android or iOS among smartphone users, it’s really a big name in the smartwatch sector. The Samsung Gear smartwatch, powered by Tizen OS, has the second largest market share in this sector. 

You should take into account the unique features of the watch when you’re developing apps. These features include speech to text, GPS, in-app purchases, and a special UI element called Widget that provides easy access to frequently used tasks. The latest version is the Gear S3, and that too can be used as a standalone device. You just need to use Tizen Studio to make your app idea a reality.

2. Fitness & Activity Trackers

Some of the tech vendors have created wearables that cater to the specific needs of certain niches, rather than trying to build miniature smartphones. One such niche market consists of athletes, sportspeople, and outdoor adventure lovers. 

Wearables catering to this sector don’t try to replace their users’ smartphones. Instead, they’re more likely to replace their regular wristwatches. These devices provide more accurate feedback on the users’ sports activities. Most of them have stripped down versions of OS and hardware features, so that they can focus on their specialized job. That has enabled them to dramatically improve their battery life too.

2.1 Fitbit

Fitbit is an activity tracker that doubles as a watch. It pairs with a smartphone to provide comprehensive reports of the user’s workout performance. Users can set daily goals, such as the number of calories to burn, and then view their progress towards them over a period of time. Developing apps for the Fitbit is a breeze if you are experienced in JavaScript, CSS, and SVG. Fitbit OS is a clever piece of software that makes this fitness tracker really exciting and easy to use.

You could use Fitbit Studio, the official IDE for the Fitbit OS, to develop apps and clock faces. If you want to distribute your apps, you could do that too, by uploading them to the App Gallery.

2.2 Garmin

Garmin has a series of wearables aimed at athletes, workout addicts, and outdoor adventure lovers. Almost all of their devices come ready with GPS, heart rate monitor, and dozens of useful sensors and features.

You can use Garmin’s Connect IQ SDK and select from a number of APIs such as Health API, Connect API and various others to develop apps. The developer website is full of additional tools and resources such as GIS software, digital map datasets, and a lot more.

2.3 Samsung Gear Fit

While Gear S is a full-featured smartwatch, Gear Fit is more inclined towards the fitness tracker market. You could use the same tools that you used for the Gear S, but the only thing is that you need to be aware of this one’s unique role as a fitness tracker.

3. Smart Glasses

Smart glasses offer a unique experience that’s completely different from all the hand-worn wearables. They don’t isolate the user as much from the real world as VR headsets do, but rather mix with reality. They normally do this by adding a layer of information on top of the user’s view of the real world.

These smart glasses can be used in a variety of situations ranging from general consumer apps to highly technical and industrial tasks. One great example is for equipment repairs. The technician could see the actual equipment through the smart glasses, and an AR app would provide more assistance by identifying all the parts the technician touches and displaying information about them in an overlay.

3.1 Epson Moverio

Epson was a pioneer in this sector, and its latest Moverio models include Moverio BT-300, BT-350, and BT-2000 Pro versions. Although they don’t support cellular data connectivity, you can use the built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to connect them to any supported device.

Epson’s smart glasses use Android OS and are packed with a number of sensors such as GPS, geomagnetic sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, and illumination sensor. Now you too can become an AR app publisher, by registering on their developer website and using the Moverio SDK plus the optimized tools to create apps.

3.2 Daqri

Unlike Epson, which is more inclined towards consumers, Daqri focuses on enterprise clients. Its smart glasses and smart helmet are useful in a number of industrial and medical applications. The platform can provide real-time data visualization, job instructions, and remote expert assistance. You can download its SDK as an extension for Unity, and immediately start coding.

3.3 Sony SmartEyeglass

Sony SmartEyeglass is primarily aimed at developers who want to experiment with the latest AR apps. It has an embedded camera, microphone, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, and brightness sensors. A layer of monochrome green text appears on its binocular see-through lenses, providing the user with information. 

These glasses need to be paired with a smartphone to function. Sony has also released an SDK, enabling developers to experiment with some cool app ideas.

3.4 Vuzix

Vuzix has a range of wearable products including smart glasses, smart sunglasses, and video headphones. They can cater to both consumers and professionals alike, and can cover a vast array of applications such as industrial, medical, retail, remote help desk, and a lot more. Be sure to register on the developer website and start developing after downloading the SDK.

4. VR Headsets

While VR headsets might make the wearer look ridiculous to others, they offer a truly immersive user experience that no other wearable can provide. Currently, the most promising applications are entertainment apps such as games, but there are many areas that could be explored. 

One such area is training simulations. Employers might make use of VR headsets and simulated virtual tasks to be accomplished by trainees. This helps reduce cost and get effective feedback on performance too. Immersive educational content is also sure to become a killer app.

Current VR headsets are packed with tons of sensors related to spatial, magnetic, optical and thermal data of the user’s environment. They are capable of presenting the wearer with a real-world view, virtual-world view, or a combination of both. This makes them really powerful devices that can have a great impact on everyone.

Here are some of the most popular VR headset platforms.

4.1 HTC Vive

HTC’s Vive VR headset comes with a complete set of accessories that help create realistic VR spaces called play areas. Users need to set up their headsets together with the accessories and define the play areas before using them. If you want to publish VR apps, just register as a developer on Vive’s app store, Viveport, and start building new worlds using the Viveport SDK. The SDK supports several OS and game engine platforms, so you can choose the version that fits you best. You can publish your VR games on the popular SteamVR app store too.

4.2 Oculus Rift

Another leading platform in the VR space, Oculus offers a great VR experience and user interaction. Its SDK is also available in several packages, including the Platform SDK and utilities for Unity game engine. The popular game engine Unreal also offers built-in support for developing Oculus apps

4.3 Samsung Gear VR

Samsung Gear VR is not a standalone VR headset, but just a device holder for compatible smartphones that provide a VR experience. Samsung has produced it in collaboration with Oculus, and it supports Samsung’s flagship handsets. The headset device acts as the controller, providing the optics as well as head tracking mechanisms, etc. It connects to the smartphone via USB and must be calibrated before use. Although setting up the development environment can be somewhat time-consuming, it’s worth it to become a developer for one of the latest tech platforms available today.

4.4 Google Daydream View

Daydream View is also similar to Gear VR, but this one’s clad in fabric and weighs much less than Samsung’s device. Google has recently started collaborating with Lenovo on building a standalone VR headset, but that’s yet to arrive. For the meantime, Google offers four SDKs for developers so that they can choose Android, Unity, Unreal, or iOS as their main development platform.

4.5 Sony PlayStation VR

Sony’s VR headset also competes head to head with other popular platforms such as Oculus, but becoming a developer is relatively difficult. You need to be physically located in certain select countries, have a static IP address to access developer support, and submit your employer’s tax ID number. This means that only corporate developers are allowed.

4.6 Windows Mixed Reality

While most of the other VR headsets rely on external sensors for motion tracking, Windows Mixed Reality headsets have all the sensors built in. So there’s no need to set up spaces such as play areas (as in the case of HTC Vive), but this means the tracking capabilities are relatively limited. 

There are several vendors that manufacture Windows Mixed Reality headsets. Lenovo, HP, Samsung, Acer, and Dell are among them. There are tons of articles and other resources on the Microsoft HoloLens developer website to help you get up and running.

4.7 Google Cardboard

This the most low-tech item in an ultra hi-tech list: Google’s attempt to bring the VR experience to the masses at a very low cost. The Google Cardboard device is actually made of cardboard, and holds a smartphone and plastic lenses to provide a VR experience. Google has also published a complete manufacturer kit so that developers can start building everything from scratch. The only thing that they need to buy is a smartphone and the lenses.

5. Smart Rings

Smart rings are perhaps the next evolution of smartwatches. As wearables become smaller and smaller, interacting with them poses a real challenge for developers. However, with the help of some unconventional interaction methods, such as gesture control, these can be solved. Below are two of the latest smart ring platforms.

5.1 Talon

Talon rings can connect to a range of devices from smartphones to tablets and smart TVs. Not only that, they can also be used as remote controls to switch on or off smart lights. A whole new world opens up when you think of the apps that can be created. You can control other devices or enhance the user experience of other apps. So just register as a Talon developer and request SDK access. You’ll be creating amazing, futuristic apps in no time.

5.2 NFC Ring

The NFC Ring has a broad range of applications such as access control, data transfer, and payments. Really creative developers are free to come up with the coolest ideas and convert them into apps using the SDKs and other tools.

Conclusion

In this article we took a brief look at the latest and emerging wearable development platforms that are going to replace smartphones in the future. The technology is changing so fast that it’s impossible to tell which one of these will actually dominate. So get out there and start experimenting!

While you’re here, check out some of our other posts on smartwatch and wearable app development.

We also have complete courses that will show you how to create a wearable app from start to finish for the popular Android Wear or Apple watchOS platforms.

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