App-isode 1: Developers talk about the state of apps now and in the future

Will the next big thing come from software?

Your S$1000 smartphone would just be an expensive beautiful shell without the apps that drive it.

And as hardware reaches a sort of lull, the world’s looking at software advancements to bring about revival hence the renewed push on machine learning and services. We speak to two people who have a part to play in the local app-mosphere - Marc Hardy of RunSocial and Muh Hon Cheng of SG NextBus fame - to find out what's their take on the state of apps and the possibility of taking them even further. (Also, if you're looking to get into apps, these guys dish out a bit of friendly advice on how to get started.) 

Image: buUuk

Marc Hardy, RunSocial

Marc Hardy is one of the minds behind RunSocial, the video app that lets you experience running alongside people all over the world even if you’re running on the treadmill at home. The difference between RunSocial and other outdoor running apps is that it allows for live peer-to-peer running, instead of checking back on people's paces only after the fact. 

With the GPS-enabled Apple Watch Series 2 and watchOS 3, Hardy has been able to bring that social running experience outdoors with RunSocial GPS. Without the video element, RunSocial GPS users are able to track the competition, as well as their own pace and heartrate, via their Apple Watch. Whether it's indoors or outdoors, they'll never have to run alone. 

What’s lacking from fitness apps these days?

One area we think there is more that could be done is making the fitness experience itself more engaging while you are doing – to gamify it. Data and sharing and comparing afterwards is great but could be so much more. For us, gamification is core to what we do and for runners everywhere both indoors and outdoors.

What advancements are you seeing in hardware that you think could be exciting for developers?

Digital fitness has come a long way with companies like Fitbit and Apple helping to make fitness tracking ubiquitous. However, fitness is very physical and apps need to work within the parameters of what is technologically viable: a super accurate sensor is wonderful but it has to also be sufficiently small, light, robust, energy efficient and affordable.

Key physical components that can make a big impact for apps include improved battery life, improved input control performance (audio, gesture, touch that deals with sweat, etc), better connectivity and tracking (a SIM card in your watch), more accurate sensors, and for AR / VR it will all be about the form factor.

What sort of revenue model do you think works for apps? 

Clearly, for an app to create and sustain amazing experiences there has to be some payback or reward. However, because the most successful apps (Facebook, Google, etc) give away so much value to so many for free, there is this global culture where consumers expect it and are reluctant to pay much - if anything. I know so many that will suffer countless hours with a free version because they refuse the upgrade cost even though its the equivalent of half a latte and they happily visit Starbucks three times a day.

I reckon if you're innovative enough to find a new app angle that people like in today's world then you'll be innovative enough to find a way to monetize (and hopefully before you go bust!) - here's wishing all fellow entrepreneurs the best of luck in that.

Are there any interesting apps you've come across lately?

Kwickie, where fans can ask celebrities questions via self recorded video with their phones. The celebrities then choose which ones to respond to by similarly using their phone to self record the answers. Kwickie then combines the two to create video Q&As between celebrities and fans. It's a new way to let fans easily connect with celebrities and it generates awesome content for all sides involved.

Muh Hon Cheng, Clean Shaven Apps & buUuk

While Hon Cheng isn’t from a typical IT background like most developers, that didn’t stop him from developing SG NextBus despite the lack of data available publicly at that time. The Masters of Science graduate ended up having to pull the bus arrival data separately from SMRT and SBS. Utility apps are his jam and he sees the upcoming Apple WWDC new SDK announcements as "a new set of toys to work with".

Hon Cheng's currently working on a currency conversion app for the Apple Watch called Elk. The app will allow you to discretely work the numbers by tapping the screen and twirling the Digital Crown. Don't worry about manually selecting the correct currency from a never-ending list, the focused app will work it out based on your location. Sounds pretty neat, huh?