If there's to be an explosion of wearable devices and smartwatches in 2014, as analysts forecast, the bigger question becomes when more apps will emerge that work with such devices.
So far, a shortage of apps has been a major shortfall of many wearable devices. Some smartwatches might have only 15 to 20 apps, and they often need to work over Bluetooth to connect to a nearby smartphone. Compare that number to the 1 million-plus apps in Apple's App Store or Google Play for smartphones, and you begin to see the challenge.
Analysts expects not only an explosion of wearable devices in the next three years, but an explosion of mobile apps of all kinds. Research firm Gartner last year predicted that wearable devices will drive half of all app interactions by 2017, a startling prediction, but one that Gartner believes was reinforced by the flurry of wearable devices shown at International CES earlier this month.
"The level of use of wearable apps is pretty nominal today," said Brian Blau, an analyst at Gartner in an interview Wednesday. "But the new cadre of smartwatches shown at CES and things pinned to clothes [or other devices], shows it is safe to say that there will soon be a way to interact, through a mobile app, that's in lieu of almost any other way of interacting, including the mobile Web or the desktop Web."
Blau said that "virtually all vendors are choosing mobile apps to interact with the way we will use a wearable device." Gartner reached its prediction that 50% of all app interactions will come from wearable devices by 2017 partly because of the way wearables work.
For example, many wearables won't have a user interface, such as a heart rate monitor that is strapped to a runner's chest. Offloading that interface to the user's smartphone also means that the wearable depends on the mobile app for user input and output, configuration, content creation and consumption and, possibly, wireless or GPS connectivity.
Blau said the wearable connection to a mobile smartphone or tablet is a way for a manufacturer to keep the device small and efficient, which reduces the device cost and favors the use of apps that are easy to maintain and update.
A good example of a recent wearable is a heart rate monitor from Adidas called the MiCoach, a $56 monitor worn with a chest strap that communicates with a smartphone via a free MiCoach mobile app. The app allows a user to activate a GPS connection so that a run, bike ride or cross-country ski trek can be stored for later review, showing heart rate, pace, distance and calories consumed during different phases of the exercise. The app can be set to allow voice prompts (with a male or female coach's voice) from the phone that tell the athlete to "speed up" to get a maximum workout. The voice prompts can also be paired with suitable music already on the phone.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.