Mobile applications can be challenging and time consuming to develop. The complexity doesn't stop with look and feel or communication with the cloud. Security and human factors play a critical role in their success or failure. An agile mobile application platform promises to bring a full-featured mobile application platform with service libraries that address key Internet of Things (IoT) features and capabilities.
It wasn't too long ago we were sarcastically mocking the "Internet-enabled coffee pot" or "smart light bulb." Yet here we are – it's the summer of 2015 and many of these seemingly mundane devices have now found usefulness within the Internet of Things (IoT) paradigm. The evolution of these smart devices may not be proceeding like we joked about many years ago – we're not going to be putting a 64-bit multicore processor into a light bulb anytime soon. However, the IoT world leverages Internet devices like smartphones and home gateways that can communicate in simple ways to smart light bulbs, outlets, and temperature control "sensor" devices, and provide a simple, intuitive program and graphical interface for controlling these devices and getting statistical information from them.
IoT encompasses sensors, gateways, and the cloud. Gateway devices like smartphones must provide interconnectivity with a variety of sensors, an easy, intuitive graphical interface for users, and high security that can prevent hacking or unauthorized control.
Mobile application platforms
Ayla Networks (www.aylanetworks.com) focuses on mobile application platforms that work at making "dumb things smart." Things you'd want to control using your smartphone. Rod McLane, Senior Director of Marketing at Ayla Networks mentioned Ayla got its start by looking at a variety of connectivity chips and trying to figure out what the next wave in connectivity for low-end devices would be. Ayla has a number of connectivity chip manufacturers like Qualcomm, Broadcom, and NXP who embed their software into their chips. From there, extensions to the smartphone and application development were a natural fit.
"Most companies doing these things aren't experienced," McLane says. "They set out to create a platform to enable people to bring dumb devices to the IoT realm quickly and securely."
In response to this trend, Ayla began investigating the components needed for smart home connectivity. From the smartphone control perspective, Android and iOS are the primary operating systems. Providing mobile libraries as freeware for connectivity and security makes development easier by having to write and test less code. On top of these mobile libraries, Ayla has source code for building out the entire primary mobile application feature set for iOS and Android. Things like secure sign-in and registration, device set-up and configuration, creating schedules for the device, and push notification support are included.
Secure sign-in and configuration
It's important for an IoT mobile application to provide enterprise level security. Ayla has designed that into the mobile platform sign-in and authentication libraries. The environment provides for mobile apps and connected devices to be authenticated separately.
In some cases, end-to-end data encryption can add an additional level of security for the IoT application. Access and authorization control provides for different types of users having different privileges. Activity auditing was also touched on in order to identify potential issues in the system prior to the problem arising. It's this big-picture security architecture within the IoT application that can provide a measure of security and reliability.
The control layers involve what are the devices you are controlling and what's the best way to allow the user to control them through the mobile application. The Ayla platform provides overlays that can adapt designs to show a variety of information about the device. For example, different zones of the household may display different information about temperature, the devices in that zone, cameras, or power consumption.
Creating a customer experience
Coupled with these control layers is the customer experience. Navigating through the control options is a critical design and layout decision. The mobile application platform has a number of starting points that can be customized depending on the application requirements. Often for less technical users you want large icons that clearly state what the control element is. Then through touching on that item an expandable section is displayed relating to everything you can control for that device. One of the examples McLane showed was an overall home control application that had a kitchen area you could select, then a number of items in the kitchen. Selecting the coffee pot item opened up to a control slider to turn the coffee pot on or off, set a timer for the coffee pot, show the weekly/monthly schedule, and even statistics on the historical usage of the coffee pot.
The mobile application platform comes with a number of sample scheduler pages and pages that manage use of general things that can be customized for the application.
Perhaps the actual look and feel of an application seems simple – but as McLane pointed out it may be the hardest thing to get right.
"Perhaps the biggest advantage of the platform is the ability to mock-up the application and get a feel for how easy or hard it is for the target audience to use," McLane says. "Even things as simple as color scheme and gesture control can be critical human factor decisions."
The mobile application environment comes with a number of gesture control capabilities as well as the ability to change color schemes quickly and easily. Combining layouts, color schemes, quick timers, usage graphs, and schedules are all things that are typically needed for sensor control. The platform has a variety of capabilities in these areas to start with an out-of-the-box experience, then customize as requirements are identified.
Ayla has their own cloud that has been tested on AWS in multiple regions. Their cloud environment coupled with connectivity firmware in silicon and the Ayla mobile application platform provides a flexible end-to-end solution for IoT applications and connecting dumb devices to the Internet.
Oliver Cockcroft, Senior Product Manager Mobile at Ayla Networks also stressed the importance of supporting, adding, and enhancing the platform to support the latest advances in IoT devices.
"It's important for an IoT platform to keep up with the latest trends, products, and applications since this market moves so quickly" Cockcroft says. "We're currently adding support for Apple Watch applications scheduled for release [in August]. New features and capabilities enable platform users to grow capabilities and market share."
Mobile development for the IoT
IoT is a unique mix of sensor, gateway, and cloud. Flexibility with the ability to leverage common components is key to an effective deployment. Mobile application platforms like Ayla's are showing the way to providing fast-time-to-market application for IoT.