Device Companion Apps - Enhance the potential of your devices

Michael Bischof

Michael Bischof – Competence Manager HCI

In today’s connected era, our smartphones have grown from simple communication devices to essential tools. They manage our schedules, entertain us, and keep us connected with the world. With this intense integration into our daily lives, it’s no surprise that our expectations for mobile applications have risen significantly. We crave convenience, efficiency, and intuitiveness at our fingertips. Major tech players have set the gold standard with their suite of device companion apps, seamlessly connecting their hardware with our devices, enriching our user experience.

So, if you’re on the path to developing a device companion app, it’s crucial to understand the high bar set by these tech giants. How can you ensure your app not only meets but exceeds these standards? To thrive in this competitive landscape, it’s essential to deeply comprehend what your users truly need.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into the details of creating a successful device companion app, highlighting key steps, potential pitfalls to watch out for and insights we gained over the years.

📱 What is a Device Companion App?

A device companion app essentially serves as an interface between a piece of hardware and a user’s smartphone or tablet. The connection is typically established wirelessly (Bluetooth / WiFi) or by using a backend application that communicates with the device. Rather than just being standalone software, these apps are specifically designed to enhance, configure, or gather data from an external device, providing the user with an enriched experience. The true power of a device companion app lies in its ability to elevate the capabilities of a hardware device, making it more functional, accessible, and user-friendly.

As technology continues to intertwine more deeply with our daily and professional lives, the role of device companion apps becomes increasingly critical. They not only make devices smarter but also provide users with the convenience and intuitiveness they seek. In the sections to follow, we’ll walk through the steps and considerations needed to craft a successful device companion app, ensuring it truly resonates with user needs.

👩‍💻 Steps to Build a successful Device Companion App

Creating a device companion app that truly stands out requires meticulous planning, a clear understanding of user needs, and an unwavering commitment to quality. Here’s a roadmap to guide you through this journey:

Identify User Needs

At the heart of any successful app lies a deep understanding of its users. It’s crucial to discern what users seek from the hardware and how a device companion app can amplify that experience. This includes identifying primary tasks they wish to accomplish, pain points they face, and any additional features they desire.

Pitfall: One of the most common missteps is designing an app based on assumptions or perceived needs without concrete data. This can result in an app that feels disjointed from the user experience or lacks essential features. Regular feedback and market research can counteract this pitfall.

Insight: In addition to early user research and usability testing, we also utilise so called “Feature flags” in our apps. These flags can be used to enable or disable features remotely and are ideal for A/B-Testing. If a feature does not resonate with our users, we can simply disable it remotely, without the need to release an update for the apps.

Seamless Integration with Hardware

The hallmark of an effective device companion app is its ability to flawlessly communicate with its paired hardware. This encompasses everything from data transfer speeds to ensuring a reliable connection. Users should be able to effortlessly discover and connect their devices through simple and optimised onboarding processes.

Pitfall: Hardware and software misalignments can lead to glitches, lag, or even total non-functionality. It’s imperative to maintain a close collaboration between hardware and software teams, with regular testing at all stages of development. Insufficient testing, especially for different device models, smartphone manufacturers, screen sizes and operating system versions, can lead to compatibility problems and user dissatisfaction.

Insight: When using Bluetooth and WiFi in our projects, we noticed a significant difference between smartphone brands and operating systems. It turns out that all of them try to optimise the battery life of their devices in different ways. Understanding how Google Pixel phones handle MDNS when searching for devices over WiFi, or how Apple’s devices expect very specific advertisement intervals for Bluetooth Low Energy, helped us build far more reliable and fast device companion apps.

Intuitive User Interface (UI)

An app’s UI should be both visually appealing and easy to navigate, allowing users to intuitively achieve their objectives without unnecessary complexity. For a device companion app this includes guiding the user through the connection process and helping troubleshoot if a connection can not be established.

Pitfall: A cluttered or counterintuitive design can deter users, leading to poor adoption rates or abandoned interactions. Stick to platform-specific UI guidelines and consider beta testing with real users to gather feedback on the design.

Insight: Modern operating systems restrict apps from accessing data they don’t need, requiring user consent before granting specific functionalities. This includes Bluetooth access and the capability to search for devices on a network. Clarifying the need for features like Bluetooth before seeking user permission helps avoid potential issues and saves users the trouble of navigating through operating system settings to undo mistakes. If your app simply asks for Bluetooth permissions without a proper explanation, there is a high chance users will not allow your app to use it.


Robust Security and Privacy Measures

Users frequently share personal or sensitive data with device companion apps, making top-tier security essential. This involves encrypting data transfers, protecting user information, and fortifying the app against threats. For device companion apps, this also covers secure device onboarding to prevent unauthorized access. Clear privacy policies and informed user consent for data collection are vital for establishing trust in your app.

Pitfall: Lax security measures can compromise user trust and expose them to risks. Regular security audits and staying updated on the latest cybersecurity threats can help in avoiding this pitfall.

Insight: Device companion apps of course require standard security protocols but also bolster the security of their linked hardware. Utilizing Bluetooth or WiFi connections, they enable firmware updates, introducing both security enhancements and new features to devices that either lack internet access or are temporarily disconnected from the internet.

Regular Updates and Maintenance

Like any software, device companion apps require regular maintenance to fix bugs, introduce new features, and enhance overall performance. To do this in the most effective way possible, it is important to understand how users interact with the app and which parts need to be improved.

Pitfall: Failing to address known issues or not updating the app in line with new hardware versions can frustrate users. Establish a clear feedback mechanism and ensure you have dedicated time or a process for regular updates.

Insight: To understand how an app or device is being used, we encourage the usage of Analytics in your device companion apps. Modern analytics services offer deep insights into customer behaviors and essential business metrics. By analysing anonymised user data, developers can enhance product features based on real user insights. Not only useful for strategic decisions, this data also helps with troubleshooting customer issues. Beyond just app insights, tracking broader business metrics can reveal trends like device combinations or user purchase preferences.

User Education and Support

Ensure users know how to make the most of your app. This can be achieved through in-app tutorials, FAQs, and dedicated customer support.

Pitfall: Assuming users will understand every feature or not providing competent support can lead to decreased satisfaction. It’s crucial to invest in onboarding resources and maintain a responsive support system.

Insight: Device companion apps make it easy for users to share data from their devices when issuing a support request. With just a few taps in the app, relevant information (e.g. device metadata or logs) can be sent to the support team. By including detailed information, such as device logs, it is also possible to use artificial intelligence (AI) to categorise the data and propose solutions, which is geared towards reducing the support team’s workload.

📈 Benefits of a well-designed device Device Companion App

As the digital landscape evolves, so do user expectations. A well-crafted device companion app can elevate a product, making it indispensable in a user’s daily life. Let’s explore some of the tangible benefits of investing time and resources into developing an exceptional device companion app:

  • Enhanced User Experience: A device companion app amplifies the capabilities of the hardware it’s paired with. It offers users an extended range of features, real-time data analysis, and remote control capabilities, thus transforming a potentially mundane hardware interaction into a richer, more immersive experience.
  • Increased Brand Loyalty: When users find value in a device companion app, their connection with the brand deepens. This heightened sense of trust and satisfaction often translates to increased brand loyalty, driving repeat purchases and referrals.
  • Valuable Insights: Device companion apps can provide companies with invaluable user data with Analytics. This data, when analysed correctly, can offer insights into user behaviour, preferences, and pain points. Armed with this information, companies can refine their products, tailor marketing strategies, and anticipate market trends.
  • Extended Product Lifespan: Regular app updates can introduce new features or functionalities, breathing new life into existing hardware. It is also possible to update the firmware of a device using the smartphone app. Users might feel less inclined to upgrade their hardware if the associated device companion app continues to deliver new and improved features.
  • Competitive Advantage: In markets saturated with similar products, a feature-rich and intuitive device companion app can be the differentiator that sets a product apart, giving it a unique selling proposition.

🚀 Conclusion

The digital evolution involves more than just our devices and the software we use; it’s about how they work together to enhance our experiences. device companion apps play a key role in this, bridging the gap between software and hardware to maximize their combined capabilities.

For businesses and developers, the challenge and opportunity lie in creating apps that resonate with users, seamlessly integrate with hardware, and utilise the latest technological advancements. The benchmarks are high, set by tech giants and ever-evolving user expectations. However, with careful planning, user-centric design, and an eye on the future, one can craft device companion apps that truly stand out. Take advantage of the power of device companion apps to unlock the full potential of your devices.

Full Potential

Michael Bischof

Do you have any questions or would you like to start a project with us?

Michael Bischof – Competence Manager HCI

Hi, I'm Michael. Do you have any questions about Device Companion Apps? Feel free to contact me by e-mail.