Despite the challenges of developing IoT mobile apps in the enterprise, they have become an increasingly popular method to manage IoT devices in a variety of use cases.
Mobile smartphone apps offer the advantage of lower cost and greater mobility over their office-bound desktop rivals. The ability of an engineer to check off tasks on a smartphone or tablet from a remote location is a major advantage for a business, one that is only made possible by IoT mobile apps.
The massive number of IoT devices necessary to drive insights and connectivity challenges at the edge make tools without the flexibility of mobile apps unwieldy and slow, a disadvantage that organizations can't overlook. Field workers and IT administrators must use the right tools to monitor and control their network and resources at the edge wherever they are.
In healthcare especially, mobile apps make it possible for doctors and nurses to remotely monitor patients reliant on IoT devices. In retail, managers use mobile apps to better monitor assets and shipments in the global supply chain. Mobile tracking has reduced costs for a myriad of enterprise users, increased benefits for patients and simplified day-to-day tasks for all who use IoT devices.
When IoT mobile apps aren't the best option
The mobile phone is the most readily available device in the enterprise because of its portability and adaptability for various use cases. IoT mobile app platforms transmit data to IoT devices in the field with an ease that desktop apps don't have.
However, organizations will continue to adopt desktop apps for their ability to work with legacy equipment, such as steam pumps, air compressors and blowers. Many organizations use operational technology in industrial IoT deployments to monitor and control how physical devices perform. Some physical devices connect -- usually through gateways -- to private wired and wireless networks in factory or industrial spaces where old infrastructure often makes it difficult to connect devices to a wired network, let alone the latest 5G cellular network.
Since the development of desktop IoT platforms in the 2010s, smartphone use and the prevalence of BYOD in the enterprise has increased dramatically, propelling with it the idea of employing mobile devices to manage IoT fleets.
IoT mobile app use cases
Organizations use IoT device management software to order, keep track of and remotely and rapidly control substantial quantities of devices.
IT admins may want to implement a mobile dashboard to manage IoT assets -- one that can be easily accessed by a user via a smartphone to see the status of over-the-air updates for each unit in the corporate space.
A retail outlet may want to use a mobile app to track from when clothes are taken from stock and put on store shelves to when they are purchased. Mobile asset tracking apps are among the most popular commercial IoT apps for both Android and iOS. They can be used in all types of retail and commercial asset tracking.
An IoT developer might choose to use Android or iOS to control LED lighting on a factory floor via a Raspberry Pi module or similar IoT board. IoT computing hardware usually connects to the network via Wi-Fi. Projects like this have typically started small -- an office hallway here and there -- but are now popping up throughout factories and other corporate environments.
Mobile apps can also be used to monitor and control HVAC systems in enterprise environments. Modern mobile apps offer a variety of command and scheduling features for technicians. For instance, technicians use mobile apps to change heat settings in the field, rather than having to return to a desktop to make changes.
IoT mobile app development challenges
A corporate IoT developer or manager might have multiple reasons to create an in-house mobile IoT app for enterprise use but must tackle several challenges.
Security should be paramount when developing or using IoT mobile apps. Media reports abound on consumer and enterprise cyber attacks that take advantage of weak IoT security as a backdoor into the enterprise. Developers should ensure they use data encryption to protect their IoT fleet, particularly because vulnerable IoT devices left alone in corporate closets or IT cubby holes present tempting targets for would-be hackers.
The usual problem of locating IoT assets in an enterprise still applies with mobile IoT app development. Since many machine-to-machine IoT devices never interact with human beings, they can be hard to track down.
App development for IoT devices presents a challenge for IT staff because sensors and devices don't have a large capacity OS to develop for and often lack in onboard memory. Although app developers have a plethora of Apple iOS and Android mobile device management platforms available to run their growing fleets of IoT devices, they must still be economical when coding for IoT devices. Top mobile app development platforms can assist in the process, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure IoT and the Cisco IoT platform.