Android Developers Can Seize the Day in Wearable Devices

DN Staff

November 26, 2013

4 Min Read
Android Developers Can Seize the Day in Wearable Devices

In the movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams whispers to his students, "Carpe diem," or "Seize the day." Today, Android device developers around the world are planning to incorporate new Android KitKat technology into wearable devices and seize their share of this lucrative new market. Developers are also wrestling with how to support their product lines while designing a completely new class of products.

Wearable devices are pouring into the market with huge investments from cash-rich VCs such as Legend Capital, and with development assistance from resource-rich vendors such as Google, Intel, and Baidu. Recent big bets include $43 million in financing for wearable device company FitBit, Legend Capital's funding of Zepp Lab, and an investment by Intel in the ski glass pioneer Recon. On the development side, Intel started a New Device group led by a designer who worked on the popular Nike FuelBand, and Baidu has launched a site featuring wearable devices using its mobile operating system called Baidu Cloud.

Driving the investments are forecasts for huge market demand. According to a Juniper Research report (subscription required), revenue from wearable industry sales will reach $19 billion in 2018 -- more than 13 times the $1.4 billion expected this year.

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KitKat is a wearable device watershed
Until now, Android operating system (OS) technology wasn't optimized for small, low-power wearable devices. The new capabilities of Android 4.4 KitKat, the latest version of Google's mobile OS, are expected to be a watershed for sales of wearable devices, with tools to help developers create memory-efficient applications for smaller devices with as little as 512 Mbytes of memory. Developers who get to market fastest with high-quality products will find an open market in which to establish early incumbency as a wearable device leader.

Key features for wearable devices
Developers should consider leveraging four key features in their wearable device designs: optimized memory footprints, low-power sensor support, step detectors and sensors, and geomagnetic rotation vectors.

An operating system that's designed to run on smaller memory footprints is easier to miniaturize and requires less power for its operations. With KitKat capable of running on devices with just 512 Mbytes, a whole new set of cheaper wearable devices is possible. According to Google, KitKat manages memory through Dalvik JIT code cache tuning, kernel samepage merging (KSM), and swap to zRAM. KitKat has also been tuned such that every major component has a reduced memory footprint. A new API also lets you tune your app's behavior to match the device's memory configurations.

Android KitKat supports hardware sensor batching. This means that the Android device hardware collects sensor events in batches rather, than individually as they're detected. This keeps the device in a low-power idle state until batches are delivered. The apps can define when the batches need to be delivered, empowering app developers to make tradeoffs between power consumption and data collection.

A step detector is a hardware sensor that triggers an event based on a step. It tracks the number of steps taken since reboot. Counters and detector sensors offer cheaper alternatives to accelerometer-based motion sensors for measuring physical activity. Hence, measuring physical activity won't require expensive accelerometer hardware or a complex detection algorithm in the device. Rather, the detection trigger would be generated by hardware with no background software running. This also means that your wearable device will have better battery life, and your programmers needn't spend time perfecting detection algorithms to suit specific devices.

Such a device could act as a less pricy compass and eliminate the dependency on detection of direction on your mobile phone based on the GPS receiver positioning and device movement algorithms. Geomagnetic rotation vector sensors could ensure that, when you stop at a place for some time, it still shows the direction in which the device is pointing.

Cool devices and applications
Let's now discuss the industries and products that could take advantage of Android KitKat's features. In recent years, consumers have become more aware of their detailed health status, and now they carefully plan their fitness regimes. Step detector and counter sensors open up new possibilities for developers to build apps for health and monitoring devices. The sensors help track exercise regimes, daily workouts, and calorie burns more accurately. Android wearable devices then become at least partial substitutes for personal trainers. In an era when all of us are moving toward preventive care, KitKat will likely become the standard OS for wearable fitness monitoring devices.

Wearable Android devices also have a huge potential in home care, as they have the potential for both monitoring and communicating. Imagine a patient with a heart condition who is involved in high-stress activity. A wearable device can notify his doctor that his heart rate/pulse rate is consistently beyond normal stress levels, and there's immediate need for the doctor to slow the patient down.

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