Smartphones were just the beginning
Back in 2007 when first smartphones were bursting into the global scene, we felt we were holding the invention of the decade (of the century?) in our hands. Actually, it seems we were quite on the right track since a lustrum later, smartphones have become a central device for over one billion people worldwide. However, the “smartifying” process keeps on beyond mobile phones. Currently, a bunch of devices are already holding mobile OS, apps and appstores. From TVs to fridges, it seems there are no limits to the spreading of this new way of understanding technology. In fact, that process help us realize what was the actual invention of the century: the apps.
Indeed, apps. Not just apps as any software application but apps as we conceive them since they became “mobile apps”: an application developed to be run on a mobile OS, easy to download and install from a software repository, set in a simplified friendly interface that allows users to perform main actions in a few taps and swipes and finally, meant to be somehow social. Apps as the revolutionary turn that software applications made just a few years ago. Think of anything, come on, there’s an app for that.
1. Smart TV and set-top-boxes
Let’s start from the most-known and already most-used smart device after smartphones and tablets: Smart TV. Sometimes referred to as connected TV or hybrid TV, Smart TV describes a trend of integration of the Internet and Web 2.0 features into television sets and set-top-boxes. More focused on online interactive media, Internet TV and on-demand streaming media and less focused on traditional broadcast media, Smart TVs feature apps as we understand them currently. Actually, all of that new content is mostly displayed by means of dedicated apps on integrated “mobile” OS on TVs. Users keep using a remote control to interact with the TV. However, a wider range of actions can be performed on Smart TVs: browse the web, play games, launch VoD applications (Netflix, Hulu+, Amazon Instant Video,…) or even listen to music using any streaming service (Pandora, Spotify, Rdio,…). In fact, the range of actions that can be carried out is only restricted by the imagination of app developers.
However, there’s no need to break your piggybank to enjoy all that new over-the-top content in your TV. There’s a cheaper way to turn your telly into a Smart TV: set-top-boxes. STB or set-top-units refers to small devices running a mobile OS, connected to both a TV and to the Internet, capable to run interactive media and any on-demand application and display it on your TV screen. STB do basically what a Smart TV does. However, there are some advantages: set-top-boxes are mobile, cheaper, compatible with any TV and its supply and OS variety is larger. In the photo below you can see some of the most popular STB: Boxee (running Android OS), Apple TV (running iOS), Roku (running Linux-based OS), Vizio Co-Star (running Google TV). You can read a great comparative of them all here.
As I said, smartphones and mobile apps have hastened the “smartifying” process of lots of gadgets we have coexisted with for a long time. One of them are watches. The idea underneath this innovative gadget is the same as in Smart TVs: a computerized wristwatch able to run a mobile OS and mobile apps, connected to the Internet and somehow synced with any other device by means of apps. Actually, the devices that smart-watches are synced with are mostly smartphones and tablets. This completely changes the traditional functionalities of a watch (time, countdown, stopwatch) to become a complement of your “smart” devices ecosystem. Most important features are though, notifications and tracking. Due to proximity (flesh-contact), Smart-watches become a great notification screen for what’s going on your smartphone or tablet. There, you can receive notifications for calls, SMS, appointment reminders, Facebook, Twitter or any other social network supported. In addition, smart-watches have been used as GPS tracker and heart rate monitor for fitness apps. These are just a few current uses, however, future functionalities are up to app developers imagination.
Well, this is probably the most anticipated smart device since Google announced it at Google I/O in June 2012. Such expectations aren’t caused by the beauty or the added-value functionalities of the device itself but due to its futuristic format. Google’s Project Glass is about a smart-glasses that use augmented reality (AR) technology to display in smartphone-like format, apps running on Android OS. Since such innovative device is a head-mounted display, interactions with apps are carried out via natural language voice commands. All the info is displayed on the glasses lens with a level of transparency which allegedly allows users to keep going while interacting with apps. Obviously, it isn’t as multi-functional as a smartphone or a tablet, however, it can be even more useful for specific actions, specially those related to mapping and geolocation, GPS, code scanning, image recognition, camera and voice-assistance. Mostly on-the-go actions. It sounds like a science-fiction tale, isn’t it? Well then, Google has announced Project Glass will be out for consumers late 2013-early 2014. That’s a year from now on. Are you ready?
Emmanuel Lund is editor at Appszoom and both witness and part of the apps revolution.