With the release of GE’s native Predix SDK for iOS, industrial mobile apps can now leverage the full range of features available on Apple devices like iPhone and iPad, delivering the kind of rich user experiences more typically seen in consumer apps. At the same time, the SDK opens up the power of the Predix Platform for developers and enables them to build apps that extend Predix Platform-powered industrial applications, sparking a new wave of innovation that will yield the next generation of robust IIoT offerings.
The SDK is now available, with a full features list already available on Github. In the meantime, we sat down with Michael Hart, director of mobile engineering for Predix and Jeremy Osterhoudt, senior Predix staff engineer, to discuss the launch and some of the exciting developments coming in the future.
What is GE’s overarching goal with the Predix SDK for iOS?
Mike: What we hope to achieve is to enable developers to build native industrial mobile applications for Apple devices that extend Predix Platform-powered applications. The Apple developer community numbers some 16 million developers and we think that a segment of that community will want to start building IIoT applications. We have already received a lot of interest from the different GE businesses and engineering groups here who want to better understand how they can use the SDK to build the next generation of industrial applications on iOS.
What does native development add to the equation?
Mike: We're focusing on native because it really provides a better user experience compared to a hybrid offering.
A native iOS application can deliver a familiar and intuitive user experience for iOS users. The Predix iOS SDK is a natural fit for iOS developers and will help to make it easier to build applications that integrate with Predix Platform.The SDK is designed and targeted to someone who's doing native development on iOS.
This is one of the big benefits of the partnership. Apple is really helping us craft our native SDK so somebody who is an iOS developer, but maybe has never built an industrial app, can pick it up and it should look familiar to them. Conversely, the SDK also empowers existing Predix developers interested in building mobile apps, but who aren’t familiar with iOS. This is what I hope will resonate both with the Apple and Predix developer communities.
We know there are over 16 million iOS developers but are there enough developers in that community with the expertise to build industrial apps?
Mike: That’s sort of been the natural trend on platforms, where we start with consumer-facing apps and get into more enterprise. So you're starting to see, just across the board, that enterprises want to build more sophisticated applications vis-à-vis what we're doing in this industrial space. I think in all these developer communities, there is a growing segment of them that focus on enterprise development, and so we're hoping that group will gravitate to this and want to be part of this next wave of IoT development for industrial applications. We’re going to be developing training programs and documentation in consultation with Apple. This is one of the top priorities this year.
How will native iOS development improve the end-user experience for apps built with the Predix SDK for iOS?
Jeremy: One of the the biggest benefits is that you get direct access to many of the platform features Apple releases every year. For example, if you wanted to render an asset in augmented reality (AR), you can immediately access ARKit, which launched in iOS 11.2. We’re also better able to build apps for devices like Apple Watch and Apple TV. You can do that using the native SDK, which is very difficult to do in a hybrid manner.
How would a feature like ARKit be used in a Predix Platform-powered mobile app?
Jeremy: The Predix Asset Performance Management (Predix APM) team has been keen on wanting to enable users to interact with digital asset models. The idea would be to render an asset that has some sort of malfunction and allow the user to interact with it in AR to see what that malfunction is and how they could remedy it before they get onsite to affect their repairs.
Mike: You could even imagine a field service person in an industrial setting, like an oil refinery, and from their device they can measure things like heat or vibration and visually represent it. So you can imagine them looking at the asset and augmenting the view with a heat map over some areas that are showing abnormal readings.
The Predix SDK for iOS launched in beta back in October and was released for GA in January.
What has GE learned since the beta launch?
Jeremy: I would say the feedback has been good. We've made a couple tweaks based on user feedback. I think one of the big things we've learned since we started working with Apple directly is that they've really helped have a kind of outsider opinion on the way Predix SDK for iOS is structured and working, and it's been really helpful to have that “first customer” type view to shape the APIs in a way that would make sense to somebody looking at it for the first time.
For a developer who has never contemplated working in the industrial space before, what are some of the unique challenges they may encounter when they begin working with the Predix SDK for iOS?
Jeremy: There's definitely a much bigger focus on security. In the consumer world, obviously you have to take that into consideration, but with Predix Platform, it's front and center. You have to really think through that security model before you can build the application, otherwise your application could potentially leak sensitive data which would be bad for the customers and the brand. In the SDK, we have really tried to focus in on embedding security concepts into the SDK that will allow developers to focus on building their application(s) while the SDK handles a lot of the heavy lifting needed to provide proper security for an IIoT application.
Mike: The other key part is that all these mobile apps in the consumer world tend to be standalone applications.
When you’re building industrial apps, they're going to connect into existing enterprise systems like an asset performance system. That's one of the features of our SDK platform — we make it easier to integrate into the applications running on the Predix Platform.
If an Apple developer were coming in and not using our SDK, they would have to figure out all the different ways to integrate into Predix, to handle authentication and security, to integrate with the backend services. All that comes as part of our SDK. Additionally, we’re on hand to support them, getting them up and running, and getting their application onto the Predix Cloud.