Smartphone 'invisible apps' aren't too far away from becoming visible

By Uwear

Today’s smartphones continue to adapt with modern technology, and the possibilities are endless.

Yet another prime example is a new type of mobile experience dubbed the Invisible App. These are apps that you don’t need to use constantly, but anticipate our needs based on sensor and contextual data to perform tasks for us before we actually do it.

Sounds pretty cool, right? Or maybe it's just me? Well either way; it’s not too far away from becoming reality.

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Smartphones in today’s day and age are filled with more and more sensors, which are also becoming faster, more accurate and use much less battery than in the past. The latest smartphones contain over 10 sensors that detect things such as traffic conditions on your commute to work or the top stories trending on your Twitter app.

But invisible apps won’t only access all of the world’s information, but also detects where we are, what we’re doing and our interests. These ‘invisible apps’ aren’t about providing users with more apps. Instead, they’re more about accommodating users without taking up so much time and attention.

One example are a shopping app that disregards things you’ll never consider buying, but alerts you when there’s a good deal on a product you’re interested in. Business Review Australia recently wrote about RainCheck, which essentially tracks items you search and allows you to save it, or alert you when the product becomes available at a better price.

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Another example is a location app that lets you know where your friends are hanging out, but is also savvy enough to know when you want people to know your location and when you don’t.

Factors such as increased power efficiency in physical memory and device processors have led to longer battery life, which has nearly eliminated restrictions on access to satellite location services. With iOS and Android becoming more advanced and more aware of context, developers are becoming able to present these to a user both quickly and efficiently.

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However, there are four main obstacles in the way from allowing this to happen. The first is privacy, since the data needed for invisible apps would need to be treated very carefully due to its high sensitivity. In order to get around this, they’ll need to develop industry associations, create best practices around privacy and then finally communicate all of this to consumers.

The second is battery life. Although major strides in increasing battery life has been made over the years, the reality is invisible apps still need a lot of power.

Third, API access to sensor data on phones is provided by both Apple and Android, but with dozens of different APIs to learn, each of them functions in a different way with very sporadic documentation. This makes it tough for developers to create even the simplest logic into their apps.

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And finally, app developers would need to collect millions, if not billions, of data points in order to turn sensor data into actionable intelligence. One of the only places Android and iOS provide important intelligence over raw data is with the Activity Monitor, which informs apps if their user is walking, driving or running. To get anything more advanced than that would require a lot more data points, which would be too advanced and too big of a job for most startups.

But even though there are a few hurdles in the way, invisible apps are certainly in our (not so distant) future.

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