A Complete Guide to Building an IoT Device Management App

A Complete Guide to Building an IoT Device Management App
This guide on crafting an IoT device management app analyzes the demand, covers a few popular apps, and provides an overview of the development process.

After nearly two decades of being “the next big thing,” the Internet of Things (IoT) market is finally making headway in both the consumer and business markets. In the former case, smart homes and home automation provide users the opportunity to control home devices, like lighting, shades, and security cameras using a smartphone. The business and manufacturing sectors embrace the IoT leveraging a variety of use-cases, saving costs while also improving efficiency.

Recent studies reveal the massive expansion of the IoT and IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) markets. An IoT Analytics report highlighted in Thomas Insights forecasts the global IIoT market to increase from $1.67 billion in 2018 to $12.44 billion in 2024, a massive compound annual growth rate of 40 percent. In a related fashion, Grand View Research predicts the global IoT device management market to enjoy a CAGR of 34.2 percent from this year until 2030.

Needless to say, this predicted growth in the IIoT and IoT device management markets highlights the benefits of mobile apps for IoT management. If your organization wants to take advantage of this expanding market, check out this guide on crafting an IoT device management app. We further analyze the growing demand, cover a few popular apps in this space, and provide a high-level overview of the app development process.

Analyzing Growth in the IoT Market 

So with the IoT and IIoT finally growing by leaps and bounds, what factors are driving this rapid expansion? On the consumer level, the concept of the smart home appears to finally be reaching a critical mass. No longer the sole domain of the wealthy, consumers now find a host of options available for IoT home devices in lighting, home entertainment, and even security. In fact, even streaming device makers, like Roku, now offer their own line of IoT devices controllable using a Roku set-top device or smart TV. Learn more about the key to great IoT remote management software.

Of course, the steady expansion of 5G networking also plays its own role, providing wireless networking with super low latency to provide a seamless experience when controlling connected devices. Any IoT device management app needs to take full advantage of this low latency. A poor performing app won’t make any headway in a competitive market.

5G networking also plays a critical role in the expansion of the IIoT. This is especially the case when managing IoT devices remotely over the internet. Other IIoT scenarios might involve a local network in a factory with low latency being used for device management. In a similar manner as with consumer IoT device management apps: fast performance is a must!

Another factor driving the IoT growth in the business world relates to the need for real-time data analytics in a variety of industries. Security and remote monitoring applications also abound. Some IoT devices generate massive amounts of the data and being able to quickly glean actionable information from them serves as a critical competitive advantage. Again, this drives home the importance of fast, seamless performance in any IoT device management app, especially those providing real-time data analytics functionality.

What Functionality Does an IoT Device Management App Provide?

In addition to controlling an IoT device’s functionality, there are a number of important capabilities of IoT mobile apps. Monitoring the device’s performance is especially important when managing an array of devices embedded throughout a factory or hospital. The ability to install firmware updates remotely also becomes critical when an update fixes a security hole.

Speaking of which, one of the issues hampering the growth of the IoT in previous years relates to cybersecurity issues. Stories about hackers leveraging connected home appliances to send phishing emails highlighted this problem earlier this decade. So IoT administrators need the ability to detect any potential security holes across the remote device infrastructures they manage.

Some larger IoT device management platforms also include functionality providing data analytics, the real-time cybersecurity monitoring noted above, and a dashboard view displaying insights on the entire IoT installation. While these platforms largely fit the needs of a business or manufacturing scenario, some also exist for the smart home.

Note that while some IoT device management apps run on a mobile platform like a smartphone or tablet, some of the more complex systems also leverage a desktop version. You need to determine which platforms to support for your management app early in the project. In fact, do so before writing any code or designing the initial user interface wireframes.

Examples of Great IoT Device Management Apps 

To help provide some insights on features, functionality, and interface designs you need to consider for your company’s app, check out these examples of a few top IoT device management apps. Note that many of these provide significant cloud functionality, enabling seamless access no matter the user’s location. 

Ayla IoT Platform 

The Ayla IoT Platform offers device developers and OEMs with a robust IoT solution for crafting connected smart home solutions. It provides a robust feature set,  including easy setup and installation over WiFi and Bluetooth as well as seamless integration with a variety of voice integration systems. Additionally, it allows end-users to create advanced timers, schedules, and scenes for smart home IoT management. Ayla includes this functionality in its own app, but it easily integrates with a client’s own bespoke app, including customizable branding.

The platform also supports connecting to Ayla’s own device firmware in addition to devices manufactured by a third-party. This adds a measure of flexibility that also applies to building custom mobile apps for controlling devices, as noted earlier. Importantly, cybersecurity is baked into the entire IoT platform, including hardware and software.

IoT in a Box 

IoT in a Box provides a plug-and-play approach to IoT device management. The platform combines hardware with top-shelf monitoring applications, including real-time reporting and alerts sent through SMS text messaging. It supports an array of standard IoT sensing hardware and gateways to focus on the monitoring of remote devices. This approach helps customers meet compliance regulations in a variety of industries.

The system seamlessly integrates with a variety of cloud platforms for data storage and real-time analysis. The included application provides a simple mobile user interface, leveraging this third-party integration while focusing on offering easy “out of the box” solutions. It also provides features for account, user, company, and location creation and management as well as real-time reporting, logging, and alerts.

Support for REST APIs and open source platforms makes integration easier. Your own management app needs to consider providing similar integration support in addition to working with a variety of wireless IoT sensors and other devices.

Azure IoT Hub 

Some enterprises boast massive IoT architectures including potentially thousands of devices located across the globe. If your device management app hopes to target these businesses, robust cloud integration support becomes paramount. As such, analyzing the feature set of Microsoft’s Azure IoT Hub helps generate ideas for what functionality to include in your company’s app.

Azure IoT Hub provides cloud-hosted connectivity able to access any IoT device in the enterprise technical infrastructure. In essence, it serves as a secure communication layer between an app and each device. Microsoft offers a full suite of integrated apps for the IoT, like Azure IoT Edge and Azure IoT Central. Again, this suite provides ideas and inspiration if you decide on taking a similar suite-like approach to your management app.

Best Practices For IoT Software Development Projects

Of course, most IoT software development projects begin with identifying a business problem to be solved. In this scenario, the goal involves the seamless management of IoT devices. Not surprisingly, any IoT product development roadmap needs a thorough requirements gathering process before your team starts writing code and designing user interfaces. 

Of course, adopting this approach assumes your company already leverages a modern software development methodology for its projects. Using Agile or one of its variants adopts an iterative approach which helps reduce project risk, especially if a critical bug or design mistake gets discovered right before launch. The cost to fix these issues greatly increases later in any project timeline. 

At NineTwoThree, we use our own bespoke version of the Lean Startup methodology, leveraging the Learn-Measure-Build framework. It breaks the project up into smaller pieces, with a focus on testing and learning quickly throughout the initiative. Again, it reduces the risk of misassumptions and other mistakes since they are caught and fixed as early as possible.

Specific Considerations For IoT App Development

Naturally, an IoT device management app development project offers project managers a host of complexity, especially when considering device communication, cloud integration, security, and more. If you want to build a full suite like Microsoft’s Azure IoT collection, data analysis, real-time reporting, and desktop and mobile apps add to the scope of the project. It becomes important to break these pieces down into manageable subprojects with dedicated teams assigned to each. Again, using a modern methodology becomes crucial. 

In essence, any IoT device management app project likely needs three areas of software development. 

  • Mobile developers with the skills to design and build apps making the control of IoT devices intuitive and seamless. In most cases, the simplest UI approach works best on smartphones and tablets. 
  • Desktop developers to craft the interface for applications used for the administration of an entire IoT device infrastructure as well as providing data analytics, reporting, and similar functionality. Note that some of these features might reside within a web browser interface depending on decisions made during the requirements phase. 
  • Back-end developers with cloud experience to build software handling device communication, data storage, device firmware updates, security, and more when interacting with IoT devices. Experience working with a variety of data and network protocols is a must. You want your app to support as many of these protocols as possible, as it offers the most flexibility for working with a wide range of devices.  

Additionally, you might want to add a few embedded systems developers able to work on the firmware used on each device. The IoT in the Box system highlighted earlier leverages a host of generic IoT devices for a wide array of use-cases, lessening the need for custom firmware development. Again, it’s another issue that needs to be determined at the beginning of the project. 

Also make sure you keep scalability at the forefront of your mind when architecting the device management app. If you want to target enterprises as part of your client base, the ability to manage thousands of IoT devices in a cloud-hosted environment is critical. 

API Support Makes Integrating With Other Systems Easier 

Your device management app also needs to support a variety of APIs as it makes integrating with other systems and platforms easier. This is especially the case when considering the areas of data analytics, cybersecurity, CRM applications, ERP suites, and more. Note that businesses increasingly leverage data from their IoT devices to inform the decision-making process, so providing support for real-time machine learning functionality is also worthy of consideration.

Security Needs to be a Focus Throughout Development 

A vast network of IoT devices remains an attractive target for hackers, raising a significant cybersecurity risk. As such, your development team needs focus on security throughout the development process on each platform used by the app – mobile, cloud, and desktop. Thankfully, other resources exist, like OWASP’s IoT Security Verification Standard which provides libraries to manage user authentication, data encryption, rights management, and more. 

A Rigorous QA Process is Critical 

With any complex software development project spanning multiple platforms, a rigorous QA process becomes crucial. As highlighted earlier, adopting a modern software development methodology helps reduce the risk of bugs and design errors appearing right before launch. Be sure to identify super users to ensure each piece of the app works as designed, especially as the team integrates the different parts of the entire suite, if relevant. 

If you have a great idea for an IoT app and need some help with IoT software development, simply reach out to the team at NineTwoThree. We boast extensive experience in this area, combining sharp technical chops with business expertise spanning multiple industry sectors. Schedule some time with us to discuss the possibilities of a partnership.

Tim Ludy
Tim Ludy
Articles From Tim
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