Using Apps to Help Users Experience Wearables and IoT Devices: An Interview with Chris Beauchamp

[interview]
Summary:

In this interview, Chris Beauchamp of Crittercism talks about his upcoming presentation at the Mobile Dev + Test conference, the importance of real-time transmitting for wearable devices, the almighty blend of functional and attractive design, and how to monetize your app correctly.

Josiah Renaudin: So, today I'm joined by app developer Chris Beauchamp. Chris, thank you very much for joining us.

Chris Beauchamp: My pleasure, good to be here.

Josiah Renaudin: All right, great. First, could you tell us just a little bit about your experience in the industry?

Chris Beauchamp: Sure. I got started in development with some server back-end stuff back in the mid-2000s or so. I was doing HTML, JavaScript, CSS, got into some PHP back-end type stuff, and started developing little desktop widgets for OS, for Mac OS.

And as soon as mobile came out, it was kind of a new shiny thing and I jumped on it. It seemed like a cool opportunity to build something new and try to learn something new. And I didn't know, at the time, what it was going to turn into. This was six or seven years ago now, and I've been developing apps ever since. It just kind of hooked me.

Ever since then, I've been all apps, all the time. I've done Android, iOS, PhoneGap, HTML5 … you name it. It's just become such a passion that I've been fortunate enough to turn it into what I do for a living as well.

Josiah Renaudin: And your upcoming discussion, which is titled "Using Apps to Help Users Experience Wearables and IoT Devices," has a great deal to do with the Internet of Things. In your own words, what is the Internet of Things, and what does it mean for the industry moving forward?

Chris Beauchamp: So the Internet of Things, it's one of these vague terms, kind of like cloud was a few years back, where everybody wants to be a part of it but nobody really knows exactly what it is yet. I think part of the reasoning behind that is because it's so massive. I mean, the potential for Internet of Things is monstrous.

I read a little while back that Cisco's projecting this to be a fourteen-trillion-dollar industry within the next five or six years. So there's that monetary value for us in tech, but culturally, there's also some implications as well. But Internet of Things is just any connected device. It's anything that's connected to your cellphone, it's connected to a PC, it's connected to a hub or to the cloud. All of these things—it could be sensors like the Fitbit that you're wearing on your wrist, anything that's gathering information and gathering data or maybe performing a simple task to improve efficiency, whether it's in your everyday life or in various industries around the world.

It's something that encompasses a whole lot of different things, but I like to boil it down to any connected device is part of the Internet of Things.

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely. So it's not as much a methodology like agile or anything like that, it's just more of an all-encompassing term for everything that's connected.

Chris Beauchamp: Exactly, exactly. And as these devices are getting cheaper, easier to build, and there's more innovation happening, it's going to keep evolving and there's going to keep being new devices that just fall under this blanket.

You can't really nail it down with one or two specific things. It's just anything that's going to be connected to other devices or to the cloud.

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely. Now, moving on and actually speaking of devices, how important is the real-time aspect of transmitting data to and from devices?

Chris Beauchamp: So, there's a couple pieces to this, in my opinion. If you think about what these devices are going to be doing out in the field, they're either gathering data or they're performing some kind of small task. You want the device to be small. You want it to be focused on what it's doing. You want the battery life to be great.

So what this means is that you need to be able to limit the CPU power, you need to be able to limit the storage, all this type of stuff as well. So from a technical perspective, things need to be happening in real time because there won't be any storage—there won't be any CPU power on these devices. So they need to pass that data off in real-time to a larger hub or to the cloud so the data can actually be processed.

That's kind of a technical reasoning behind this real-time movement. You see all the real-time operating systems that have popped up, and it's just a necessity of what the devices are actually capable of.

Of course, on the other side, the consumer-facing side, where the use case is ... people want stuff real time. If you've got a sensor out there that's monitoring crops and there's a change in the climate that's sudden, you might need to react to that immediately. From a functional perspective as well, you want to know the data coming in or you want to be able to turn off your lights immediately from your phone or something like that. So there's technical reasons behind it and there's also functional reasons as well.

Josiah Renaudin: And like you said earlier, you've been involved with mobile pretty much from the get-go. You've seen plenty of different apps, different styles, different interfaces. How crucial is it to effectively present elements that are visually appealing and functional within a mobile app?

Chris Beauchamp: This is something that's very near and dear to my heart because I've developed a number of different apps to varying degrees of success, but I've also gone through this personal evolution of what I'm learning is important to consumers and is important to be able to compete in the app store.

I'm an engineer by trade, so I always push design to the back-burner, but it's the user's first touch-point with your app. It's what catches their eye in the app store and it's the first thing they're noticing when they're actually using the app. So it can be the mostly nice-engineered piece of app that's ever been built, but if it doesn't look great, people aren't going to enjoy it.

On the flip side of this, it also needs to be functional. You can have the most beautiful app on the planet, but if doesn't do what it's supposed to do, then again, users are going to drop off and notice that.

So the design, how you present the elements, how the flows work, how the screens join together and the total user experience ... that's what drives user to not only download the app, but also stick around. As users stick around, as the retention numbers grow higher, that's when you're able to monetize effectively.

All of these things play together. But the design and the visual elements are very, very important.

Josiah Renaudin: Speaking of design, we've been seeing wearables crop up all over the place of all different shapes and sizes. You have Google Glass and you have the iWatch coming up and you even want to go to the Oculus Rift and different wearables like that. Can you talk a bit about wearables and how big you think this segment of the industry can really get in the near future?

Chris Beauchamp: In my opinion, this is so very, very small sub-set of the Internet of Things space. So, IoT and wearables are always thrown in the same clump, but wearables are just a sub-set. We've only scratched the surface of wearables, but it's getting the consumers more familiar with how the greater IoT picture works.

So wearables, we see they're tracking your fitness, they're the iWatches, the Android watches. Every year these devices are getting smaller, lighter, faster, cheaper to build and my favorite metric or way to gauge what's happening in the wearables space in particular is to go on to something like KickStarter and see what are people building with all these tiny little microprocessors, all these little sensors that can be embedded in your clothes, in your shoes, in your watches. It gives a good idea of what kind of innovation is actually out there.

I like to see these little indie projects popping up because it's coming closer and closer to the consumer. It's not just these big nameless corporations that are cranking out these watches. It's guys down the street tinkering in their garage. It's reminiscent of how PCs were years and years and years ago where that's really the core that's driving the innovation.

So it's up to the developers to see how far will wearables themselves go. But again, it's just a very, very small sub-set of the larger IoT space.

Josiah Renaudin: Have you seen anything on KickStarter recently in the realm of wearables that really caught your eye?

Chris Beauchamp: It's something that I just kind of poke around ... I don't have any off the top of my head that I could probably name. I know I can look some up because I read some ... probably bookmarked somewhere on my computer, but I just like seeing the different creative takes that people are putting on technology.

Technology used to be just for nerds and now it's more and more becoming for designers as well. For user-experience experts.

People that are ... instead of trying to make a cool piece of technology, they're trying to embed it into your life. So things that I would never think of as an engineer, people are out developing and thinking about every day. Engineering is becoming more commoditized. It's fun to see different people's perspectives on what they can do with these devices.

Josiah Renaudin: Totally, and kind of move a little bit back to mobile apps, what mobile apps do you use on a daily basis that you believe stand out among the pack? What have you really started to attach yourself to that you most feel like, “man, I need to use this app every day”?

Chris Beauchamp: One that I always use as an example is Instagram. Partly because I use it every day, but also because they were like the sixth-thousandth photo sharing app out in the app store. They were not the first ones to invent photo sharing, but they locked down the design and the performance of the app so well that they just made users love them, and myself included. So when I like to use an example of what's a well-designed app, what's a great user experience app, it's Instagram.

They thought about, okay, we're going to start uploading the picture before the user ever hits send so it's going to make the user feel like the pictures are really fast in its upload. It's going to create this very tight user experience, obviously all the buttons ... all the views ... everything is just designed down to a tee. So it creates that total user experience that people really, really like.

Another app that I don't use every day but it's another fun example is B&H Photos app. They've got one of the most fun interactions I've ever seen in an app so it's a ... the function of the app is to go to B&H Photo and purchase something. So, they've got this little shopping cart animation when you actually go to make a purchase that is just delightful. And as a user, if I'm enjoying paying for something within an app, then the app developer is doing something right. That's the ultimate goal for an app developer. So, I like to use that as an example as well.

Developers that have really thought about how users are feeling and tie that in to what they're actually doing to provide a great experience and to ideally monetize their app.

Josiah Renaudin: Now, let's look a little bit at the future for a second. Do you see any particular trend in mobile app development that can change how we interact with our phones coming up in 2015, and even if you want to look a little further up, 2016 or 2017?

Chris Beauchamp: Look at the iOS watch coming out. This is not a brand new piece of technology and smart watches have been around for a long time, but what Apple is great at doing is bringing technology from the techie nerds like me and bringing it to the everyday consumers. So, the iWatch is really going to bring wearables to the forefront kind of like the FitBit did, but in a little bit larger scale and a little more techie scale.

So, the iWatch is going to interact with your phone. So the watch is going to become the touch-point between you and your phone so every interaction that you do is going to be more targeted.

Designers, developers like myself, we're going to think about okay, how are people interacting with the watch, how can we replicate that on the phone? Because we want the experience to be fast, we want it to be simple for the user to figure out because it will be average consumers, it's not going to be techies.

When you think about the apps that you have on your phone now, you don't have one app that does everything. You have a hundred apps that do tiny little things very, very well.

The watch is going to drill into that a little bit deeper where each of these apps is going to have little utilities or little widgets that will run on the watch that will do one little sub-set of the functionality on the watch directly.

So developers, designers are going to start thinking about how can we make these tiny little interactions and it will ... I think that will translate over from the watch to the phone and be more of a trend across the industry than okay now we got apps just on our watch now.

Josiah Renaudin: Fantastic. All right, I'm going to move into the last question and I really do appreciate your time Chris.

More than anything, what message do you want to leave with your audience in San Diego?

Chris Beauchamp: There's obviously a lot of talk, a lot of hype about the IoT space, the wearables space, but the thing to remember is that apps aren't going anywhere. All these little devices, they still need a hub. They need somewhere to report data, too, something more powerful, something that's able to transmit the data, crunch the data, do whatever it needs to do, and that touch-point is going to be the app. So rather than reaching for the next shiny, tiny little device to work on, you also want to focus on what's happening on the app side of things and obviously, I'm a little biased because I'm an app developer. But I think apps are only going to get more and more popular to augment the IoT space rather than to compete with it.

So to make sure that you focus on the user experience of your app, make sure that it's going to be able to connect with all the devices around it and the average user ... Joe Schmo off the street can come in and figure out, okay, I'm going to connect all these different devices to my app and it's going to work the first time.

We don't want to have techie people have to set up everybody's phone on the planet, everybody's devices, so developers and designers need to think about how do all these tools work to actually get all these devices connected and actually create a great experience out of this all coming together. So we can fit in to people lives instead of being an inconvenience to them.

Josiah Renaudin: Great. Well once again, I really do appreciate you talking with me today, Chris, and I'm looking forward to hearing more about wearables and the Internet of Things at your Mobile Dev + Test speech in the coming months.

Chris Beauchamp: Awesome, it was my pleasure. I'm looking forward to the event because obviously, it's a pretty fun space, so we'll see how it goes.

Josiah Renaudin: Tailored just for you. You have a great day.

Chris Beauchamp: Thanks a lot, you too.

 

Chris Beauchamp

An app developer since the first iPhone SDK was introduced, Chris Beauchamp lives, eats, and breathes mobile. Chris has published to both iTunes and Google Play a number of apps that have accumulated more than 25MM downloads. Focusing on utility apps with simple UX and beautiful design, his apps see 5 star ratings across the board. Chris is currently a developer evangelist at Crittercism, a service that provides mobile app performance insights to help developers improve their apps, where he discusses the methods and tools he has used to build successful apps. Chris can be found @cjbeauchamp and is always up to talk apps!

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