Who ever thought we'd be connecting palm-sized projectors to our smartphones? It's clear the engineers at innovative companies like Apple and LG were thinking just that. First came the smartphone, then came apps for smartphones. Now, the next wave of innovation has begun, with the introduction of smartphone accessories that are controlled by apps. This opens up a whole new accessories market and new opportunities to enterprising hardware and software engineers.
Consider the iPhone. Last March, Apple announced a capability in the iPhone OS that enables iPhone and iPod touch apps made by third-party developers to communicate with external accessories over the devices' 30-pin connector. The ability to communicate directly with an accessory in developer-defined ways opens up infinite applications and opportunities for associated accessories.
But the challenges for the would-be designer of any smartphone accessory are many. Such a design project is a complex endeavor that requires the efforts of a cross-disciplinary team.
The ability to communicate directly with an accessory in developer-defined ways opens up infinite applications and opportunities.|
To ensure that the resulting product is of the highest quality and provides the best user experience, the work must be partitioned appropriately and the project planned and managed carefully. The team that develops the accessory must be able to produce compelling industrial, mechanical and hardware designs; write firmware; and develop the smartphone app. Each of these approvals is challenging on its own, but they become interrelated when you develop a smartphone accessory, resulting in an additional level of complexity.
With the proper team and program management, including adherence to the basic guidelines outlined here, an accessory product can be a game changer for your company.
The smartphone accessory comprises a housing; hardware, including a microcontroller that interfaces to the smartphone's OS; firmware that runs on the microcontroller; and whatever other hardware the accessory functionality dictates.
The app, properly designed, comprises two logical parts: the software development kit and the application.