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How will the “Internet of Things” affect app developers?

Posted on Thursday, Apr 6, 2017

Hays Blog: What does the Internet of Things mean for app developers?Within the next three years there will be more than 26 billion connected devices, according to Gartner. This presents both challenges and opportunities for anyone working in tech and as an app developer you're at the forefront of this change. Whether you're freelancing, contracting, or working full-time, there will be new skills to embrace, and a wider world than mobile phones. This shared connectivity means we as human beings, and our devices, are far more connected than ever before.

And this represents a huge opportunity, but only if you have the right capabilities and skills to exploit it.

The IoT prompts increasingly sophisticated apps
This proliferation of connectivity has created endless opportunities to create even more intelligent apps, both for personal and business use.

For personal use, we now use apps to make our homes smarter. Amazon Echo is a clear example here. This smart speaker integrates a personal voice assistant named Alexa who can answer your questions and take basic commands. Key recent additions include support for Nest and WEMO to control smart home devices.

Our cars are also getting smarter – connecting to your office calendar and navigating the quickest route to your next meeting. More than 380 million connected cars are predicted to be on the road by 2020, up from 36 million in 2015, according to BI Intelligence.

Smart cities are also a very real possibility where connectivity across different facilities improves the efficiency of services to seamlessly meet residents’ needs. It’s not the stuff of science fiction either – Barcelona, for example, recently implemented a number of IoT initiatives to help enhance transport and environmental activities.

How will the IoT impact on app developers?
Under the IoT, apps have evolved from only connecting to and communicating with one mobile operating system to connecting to a myriad of devices. Therefore, app development and programming will become a far more specialized, and in-demand, skill. We predict the following impact on app developers:

1. App developers will need to embrace an increasingly diverse and adaptable skill set
Apps must be designed for flexibility to remain relevant. With the advent of new technology, the app must not become obsolete as it will, most likely, need to connect to this new technology via the IoT.

As a result, your skills need to be equally flexible. An analysis of your current experience should highlight any skills gaps so you can plan accordingly. Once you're identified an area for improvement, look for stretch assignments or side projects you can take that would help you develop that expertise.

2. Third party software is important
It makes sense to build an application on top of a ready-made “IoT platform” to reduce development time and to communicate with as many “things” produced by as many manufacturers as possible.

This doesn’t let app developers off the hook though – you will need to understand how to connect to these third-party platforms, probably using a diverse range of APIs. For example, you may need to write connectors in JavaScript that allow new things to communicate with the platform as manufacturers develop them.

What skills should you be developing? Ask your recruiter to find out what employers are asking for.

3. Security is paramount
The unsurpassed connectivity of the IoT gives cyber criminals a new vulnerability to exploit and developers must build security into the heart of every app. For example, the “Mirai” malware specializes in infecting IoT devices and was made open source last year. Shortly after this release, a massive botnet-powered DDoS attack disrupted GitHub, Spotify and Twitter.

Yet, more than 80% of IT decision makers said they lack cyber security skills within their business, according to a recent report from Intel Security. Part of the problem is a lack of adequate cyber-security training for developers. We expect to see a huge surge in demand for IT security skills and training to redress this imbalance and DDoS strategies, in particular, will play a pivotal role.

4. Mobile development will also grow
The IoT application that the end user interacts with could be a web app, an enterprise application or a mobile app.

A mobile app seems a natural fit for the IoT as your smartphone is already your communications hub. We expect to see growth in the mobile app development sector to complement the growth of the IoT sector.

Hybrid apps are a good match for the IoT. The app is hosted inside a native application that uses a mobile platform’s WebView. In other words, the bulk of the app is built using cross-compatible web technologies, such as HTML5, CSS and Javascript – the same languages used to write web apps. Some native code is used, however, to allow the app to access the wider functionality of the device and produce a more refined user experience.

There’s not currently enough talent with the right skills to manage and execute on IoT projects, so taking the right steps now will mean more opportunities later.

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