The Internet of Things (IoT) is already here and the buzz that surrounds it will last for some time to come. Whether you’re at home, in the office, or at the grocery store, ordinary things around you are getting smarter each day.

IoT is basically the next level of the internet where everyday objects have unique identifiers and network connectivity to send or receive data (without any human-to-computer interaction).

Although there’s a buzz surrounding it recently, IoT isn’t a new concept. Tech companies have been working on developing smart interconnected devices for years. As a result, we are already able to benefit from a wide range of smart gadgets.

The evolution of IoT is happening rapidly and before you know it we will all be surrounded by it. But to take advantage of it and increase adoption, positive user experience (UX) is crucial. This creates a few UX design challenges for developers.

UX Design Challenges

At the present time, UX design for IoT is complicated and unpredictable. Experts are still basically trying to figure out how they can design the best new experiences and products.

Unlike the traditional internet where building websites is quite simple, IoT is a lot more challenging. Further, the pace of its evolution has also been major contributor to the fact that a lot of IoT devices leave much to be desired.

Usability

IoT is expected to make our lives much better by automating monotonous tasks (which in turn will free up more time). Although we will get there eventually, the present reality is the fact IoT is in its infancy and it lacks usability.

Some IoT devices in the marketplace aren’t usable in any sense of the word. However, usability in this context can’t have a traditional approach as our current knowledge and experience isn’t applicable here.

UX designers can only optimize it based on research (on the experience of end users) and that will take some time.

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Device Connectivity

IoT will be futile without a network connection. I mean that’s how data will be transferred back and forth by devices without human interaction. New IoT devices entering the marketplace mostly work via WiFi (but it really shouldn’t matter if the connection is wireless or not).

Think about your laptops and your smartphones for a second. Haven’t you experienced occasional connectivity issues? I think it’s safe to say that we all have from time to time. In fact we are used to it and accept it no matter how annoying it can be.

But think about your refrigerator or your garage door. Our user experience is very different with everyday real life stuff that’s not online. We have grown to expect an immediate response without any buffering.

So if the connection is slow, it might take a few minutes for garage door to open. What if your fridge just locked itself and shutdown because of some system issue?

Are we ready for this?

We can expect these types of scenarios to occur with the first generation of IoT, but I’m not too sure if we’re ready to handle it.

It’s also important to note that IoT devices won’t be online all the time. They’re mostly energy-saving products that will mostly go offline when they’re not functioning. Further, it might take a couple of seconds for your mobile app to connect to a smart device to get it to do what you want it to do. So UX designers will really need to take these scenarios into account when they think of user experience.

Multiple Interfaces

Even though people have been working on it for years, IoT has only managed to enter the consumer market these days. Right now there are plenty of devices in the marketplace that are useful and smart on their own. But they’re not built to talk to other devices and work together. In other words, you cannot control all your IoT devices from one platform or app.

A unification of interfaces is vital to make IoT what it’s meant to be. If you need a separate app for every single IoT device, it can complicate life a lot more and eat up more of our precious time (and totally defeat the purpose of IoT).

Ideally if you had a smart car, it should communicate with the thermostat in your house to get it to a comfortable temperature when you get home. That hasn’t happened yet.

However, there is work going on behind the scenes to eliminate UX fragmentation. Tech giants like Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Samsung are doing something about it.

Today, we have the Open Internet Consortium, Open Connectivity Foundation, and AllSeen Alliance who are working on developing an open standard for IoT which will significantly boost interoperability.

Conclusion

With an open standard and UX designers focusing on the way the end user will use the device, things can only get better. But it won’t be smooth ride in an unknown territory. As you fix issues, you can expect new ones to pop up and so on.

In the future, a lot of IoT devices will be controlled via hand gestures, voice inputs, and eyes which will bring sensor technology into the mix. This in turn will open up a whole new dimension of challenges when it comes to UX.

As a result, we can expect a not so great IoT in the near future that is packed with obstacles. But if the evolution of websites and mobile apps are anything to go by, I think it’s safe to say that we’ll get there.

Andrew Zola is a freelance writer, designer, and artist working in branding and marketing for over ten years. He is a contributor to various publications with a focus on new technology and marketing.

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