Shashwat Pradhan Shashwat Pradhan

Mobile developers, their apps and the IoTs with Alec Saunders

We got the opportunity to interview Alec Saunders who was the VP of QNX Cloud and earlier VP at BlackBerry for Developer Relations and Ecosystem Development. He’s also worked at Microsoft in the past and then on his telecom startup Iotum where he was the co-founder and CEO. Most of us know him for the brilliant job he did with developers to build the BlackBerry 10 app ecosystem.

1. What is the most interesting trend you saw in app developers?

The most personally interesting trend for me was the shift to developing outside North America.  Traditionally the centre of innovation in the technology business has been North America, and primarily Silicon Valley.  However, during my time at BlackBerry, we saw a disproportionate number of applications being built in South America, India, China, and other non-traditional technology centers.  My theory is that this is because of the reach of the internet, and the fact that applications themselves are easy to distribute.  You can be a kid sitting on a beach in Northern Brazil, and reach a global market through BlackBerry World, or Google Play, or the Apple App Store.  And governments in those countries were beginning to recognize that fact.  They could see that they didn’t need to lure traditional manufacturing to those geographies to participate in the market.  They didn’t need to invest billions in infrastructure, or large scale manufacturing.  They just needed to make sure that there was sufficient connectivity to enable app developers. 

2. What do you think about context aware apps?

Context is everything.  Whether you’re talking about geo-fenced location services, or other kinds of triggers, context is the defining “next phase” for apps.  And that makes sense — as we embed sensors into literally everything the market is evolving to applications that can start to use that sensor data, and interpret it.  A great book that just came out recently is Shel Israel and Robert Scoble’s Age of Context, in which they describe many new kinds of contextual applications and services that can be built or are already being built.  I recommend people read it.

3. How do you see the IoTs grow in the bigger picture?

IoT is actually undergoing a fundamental shift as well.  Let’s face it, we’ve been doing “IoT” for over a decade now — it just wasn’t called that.  The first systems in production simply monitored and/or automated a physical process in some way —> think SCADA systems in factories.  And those systems were primarily custom built silos that lived behind the firewall of an organization.  We referred to them as M2M, or machine to machine, systems until recently.  The big shift that’s happening right now is a result of three concurrent trends — processors are getting cheaper, sensors are getting way cheaper, and network connectivity is getting cheaper.  That’s creating a perfect storm where suddenly we can connect and monitor anything. So, for example, in my home my furnace and air conditioner are connected.  So are all my entertainment devices, and even the vacuum cleaner.  Well, if you believe the pundits there will soon be 10’s of billions of these sensors on the planet.  Everyone of us will have a cluster of sensors that are part of our world… and that will dictate the next big shift, which is away from siloed IoT applications, to applications that draw data from multiple sources.  And contextual intelligence will have a huge part to play.

4. What is your opinion on wearables?

 I wear a fitbit (which I adore), but I think that these devices must also evolve.  Some wearables will have multiple sensors and multiple applications to interpret that data.  Some will come in the form of jewelry, or eyeglasses, or watches or even more focused “accessories” like a walking stick.  Today’s wearables are really generation 1 technologies. It will be exciting to see what the future holds here. 

5. What are some of your favourite apps?

On a daily basis I use BlackBerry Maps, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Evernote, DropBox, the CBC News, the Globe News, Flipboard, Room Tunes (a Sonos client), Untappd and Fitbit.  I’m not a game player at all, but I love news and informational apps. 


On a personal note, Alec is a great inspiration to me, when I first met him at the BlackBerry Jam World tour in Bangalore, I found his ideas and enthusiasm is really captivating. He has had a massive impact on many app developers. He was definitely one of the major reasons I decided to startup with Emberify and build technology driven mobile apps. It was a great privilege to work with him on our apps while he was at BlackBerry. I can’t wait to see what his next move will be!