The smartphone has replaced a lot of our possessions–alarm clocks, pagers, GPS’s, watches, Rolodexes and, in many cases, even entire computers. But its functions will always be limited to mass market demands. Most of us want to make phone calls and have longer battery lives. Most of us might not want to have a specialty product like a macro lens built in.
So a large market is left to design the modern smartphone accessory. But these accessories are no longer just physical add-ons. Thanks to software APIs, we’re seeing a new wave of hardware that comes along with subsidized software–or what a company called Tangram has labeled the “appcessory.”
Their Smart Dot ($80) is a perfect example of the trend. It’s a capacitive stylus. It also breaks down to about a third of its length to connect to an iPhone’s 3.5mm jack, from which it’s a powered laser pointer that can be used during presentations.
This, unto itself, is a perfectly useful product for a lot of people. But Tangram wanted to add a level of extra value.
“Throughout our research, we found many people have at least more than a laser pointer with them,” explains Tangram’s Geun-Tak Kim. “But they did not regard it as a something valuable item, even though they use them frequently and importantly at the meetings. The more significant behavior experience is that many people throw it away and look for a new one when battery ran out.”
Where Tangram found the extra value was, not just in its modular design that draws power from the iPhone itself and even comes with a handy rubber strap, but in the Smart Dot’s accompanying free app. Over Wi-Fi, users can control the mouse pointer on their computers (a feat that standalone apps have charged for in the past).
The result is a physical pointer and a virtual one, an analog product with a robust digital backend that can be constantly improved. “The software that goes with Smart Dot will be upgraded continuously,” promises Kim. Whereas most electronics use firmware updates as a bit of a crutch to fix bugs, an appcessory like the Smart Dot is more agile, poised to refine and iterate new value in the core product.
And in this regard, the Smart Dot is in excellent company, with other appcessories like the iCelsius (an iPhone probe thermometer) or the BlinQ (an iPhone remote with a social backend). It’s not just apps that are showing us that software is the new hardware. Hardware is showing us that software is the new hardware, too.