App developers see wearable devices as next big thing

App developers see wearable devices as next big thing
Liquid Image's EGO LS wearable camera is displayed during a press event at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for the 2014 International CES on January 5, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

SAN FRANCISCO - Wearable computers like Google Glass and the Samsung Galaxy Gear watch may not have caught fire yet, but that hasn't stopped mobile game developers from rushing to create apps for the new devices, eager to seize what they hope is the next big moment in consumer technology.

Niccolo DeMasi, the CEO of mobile games maker Glu Mobile , compares the potential of wearables to that of Apple Inc's iPhone launch in 2007 - an event that was the catalyst to create much of the mobile app world that exists now.

DeMasi and others are betting that by developing compelling apps designed with the wearables' special features in mind, they can create overwhelming demand for the products. "A whole new app ecosystem is going to be born," said Shawn Hardin, chief executive officer of Mind Pirate, which will release "Global Food Fight," its first game for Google Glass, this month. "Those who are going to make that happen in a big way are going to be valuable companies because of it, and those who wait too late won't be a part of it."

The market for mobile game apps is expected to grow to US$17 billion (S$21.54 billion) this year from just US$6 billion in 2010, analysts said, and wearables could fuel growth in the years to come.

An array of new smartwatches and devices like fitness tracker Fitbit will go on display this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, heralding a potential breakthrough for the devices in 2014.

Google Glass is expected to launch broadly sometime this year. So far, its user-testing version has only been available at a US$1,500 price to about 15,000 developers and consumers who registered to be part of its early adopter programme.

Galaxy Gear smartwatches from Samsung have garnered mixed reviews since their September launch, and consumers have not warmed to them yet.

Despite the slow start, Juniper Research expects more than 130 million smart wearable devices will ship by 2018. Moreover, global shipments of wearable "smart glasses" alone will reach 10 million each year by 2018, compared with an estimated 87,000 in 2013, according to the research firm.

Wearable computing devices basically function as mini-computers, mainly strapped on a user's wrist or face, though they may end up being worn on other parts of the body, too. In developing apps for them, programmers will focus on their voice-command features as well as GPS, gyroscope, compass and WiFi capabilities. Apps for more conventional mobile devices, by contrast, mostly use their touch-screen interface.

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