Internet of things app developers
App developers at work. Image: nd3000/Shutterstock

4 things app developers need to know about the internet of things

24 Mar 2017

The internet of things is fast becoming an intrinsic part of our lives and society. Hays’ Steve Weston asks what app developers can do to take advantage of that.

The internet of things (IoT) is changing every single aspect of our lives at a rapid pace. It is connectivity on a worldwide scale – and this presents an incredibly exciting business opportunity.

IoT’s growth rate is equally incredible, as Gartner predicts that by 2020 – less than three years’ time – there will be more than 26bn connected devices. This shared connectivity means we as human beings, and our devices, will be far more connected than ever before.

This represents a huge opportunity for your organisation, but only if you have developers with the right capabilities and skills to exploit it.

What skills will my business need to reap the rewards of IoT?

The internet of things has opened the floodgates to unprecedented demand for a range of technical skills. There has been an increase in demand for workers with tech skills related to IoT, including business consulting, Apple’s Swift programming language, big data analytics and machine learning, as well as traditional coding languages such as AngularJS and Node.js, according to the IoT Institute.

IoT markets are interdependent and this means that developers will need to work across industry boundaries, according to a recent report from VisionMobile. It concludes that: “Developers are a driving force in every IoT industry and a source of competitive advantage.” As such, the app sector in particular will be significantly affected by this borderless IoT landscape.

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. The UK version even lets you order your favourite takeaway through the Just Eat app.

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

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

How will IoT impact on app developers?

Under IoT, apps have evolved from only connecting to and communicating with one mobile operating system, to connecting to myriad devices. Therefore, app development and programming will become a far more specialised – and in-demand – skill.

We at Hays 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 internet of things.

As a result, the skills of your app developers need to be equally flexible, and they should be committed to investing in their own development, with your support. An analysis of your current development teams should highlight any skills gaps so you can plan accordingly.

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. They will need to understand how to connect to these third-party platforms, probably using a diverse range of APIs. For example, a developer may need to write connectors in JavaScript that allow new things to communicate with the platform as manufacturers develop them.

3. Security is paramount

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

Yet more than 80pc of IT decision-makers said they lack cybersecurity skills within their business, according to a recent report from Intel Security.

Part of the problem is a lack of adequate cybersecurity 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 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 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.

What does IoT mean for companies recruiting for app developers?

Essentially, there is not currently enough talent with the right skills to manage and execute IoT projects. So, if your company is planning to focus its recruitment on IoT app development, I urge you to amend your hiring requirements to find the right people with the right mix of skills to bring the internet of things into your organisation.

By Steve Weston

Steve Weston is the chief information officer and global head of corporate accounts at Hays.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

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