Meet Jibo, the robot that may become app developers' new best friend

Shane Schick

Forget about the iPhone 6 for a minute. Put aside the Samsung Galaxy 5, the Moto-E and other new devices entering the market.

Now take a look at this and imagine, for a moment, that it was the app development platform of the future. Because, despite first impressions, it might be.

Personally, I find something kind of creepy about Jibo, the family robot currently under development by MIT professor Cynthia Breazeal. It is currently in pre-sales for $500 and is expected to be available sometime next year. Then again, I was one of the people who thought smartphones would be horribly invasive and distracting from everyday life--and they are, but that doesn't stop people from using and even loving them. 

As previous technology innovators learned with the dawn of the desktop PC, the laptop, the smartphone and more recently tablets, it all comes down to software, but Breazeal seems to be thinking that through. An SDK is already available that provides access to sound, speech and perception features that will be available on Jibo, which can work with apps written in JavaScript. 

Most likely, the first wave of Jibo apps we'll see (assuming the robot debuts as expected and quickly gains traction among consumers) will be those which are proprietary to its creators, and perhaps handle some of what's described in the promo video. The next wave, as developer relations amp up, will be complementary versions of apps that are possible on other hardware platforms today. I can easily imagine Evernote on Jibo, for instance, or the ability to play Words With Friends with Jibo when you can't find (or don't want) an actual human friend. Only as we get more accustomed to the use cases of a Jibo user will the most critical wave of apps come to life--apps or mobile games which align more comfortably with the kind of experience Jibo brings to the average home. 

Right now I would imagine the most forward-looking app developers are thinking about wearable hardware like smart watches or smart glasses rather than a robot, but you could simply add Jibo to the list of more pervasive or ubiquitous computing that will come with the proliferation of sensors and other Internet-connected devices in the smart homes of the future.

The real question is whether, over time, a robot like Jibo would achieve enough engagement to become a real developer priority. Today we talk about organizations being "mobile-first." Will some of them one day become "robot-first?" That may be too much to expect for the average app developer. All the same, being prepared to welcome Jibo into homes--and into their product development plans--is probably worth thinking about in 2015.--Shane