We have been talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) for a while now and from the looks of it, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan. Many companies are facing hurdles that they didn’t anticipate, some have even faded away.
With something like 500 networked devices expected in every home by 2020, it’s difficult to foresee how this is actually going to become a reality. The main problem with achieving this goal in IoT 2.0 isn’t the lack of technology or expertise. Instead, it’s the oversight of the value of design.
What is IoT 2.0?
British Technology Pioneer, Kevin Ashton (who went on to co-found the Auto-ID Center) came up with the idea of IoT around 1999. At the time, it was mainly focused on RFID technology and the internet to work on logistics and supply chains.
Around the same time, Neil Gerstenfeld started writing his book “When Things Start to Think” which was published around the time he was involved with the MIT Media Lab. A year later, a combination of these two ideas brought about the belief that “things” will become smart and connect with us via the internet.
So the Internet of Things is nothing new, it’s been around for 16 years and is about to enter the next phase of its evolution. IoT 2.0 takes it beyond just being connected to real-time interactions in both our personal and professional lives.
So you can say that the first phase or IoT 1.0 was focused only on enabling Machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity (which has provided solid B2B solutions). As a result, it didn’t require great design as it wasn’t needed to persuade the customer to buy it. When it comes to supply management and logistics, the look and feel of the product were immaterial.
IoT from B2B to B2B2C
Today, IoT is becoming more B2B2C than B2B. What’s changing is the fact that B2C companies have joined the party and are attempting to get their share by taking advantage of IoT applications. This changes everything as the technology alone won’t drive adoption. It's the user’s experience that will basically increase adoption by creating a demand for it.
So to get IoT devices into homes, product design will be vital in influencing the consumer to purchase it. Although its connectivity will add value to the product, it won’t be a factor that closes the deal.
This is where companies have been guilty of oversight and failed. Although the excuses are varied, the root of the problem has usually been the focus on B2B models with little to no consideration given to the needs of the end user.
I’m sure you can remember when Revolv (a home automation hub) made headlines when its parent company Nest was acquired by Google. At the time, it looked like the company was taking a major step forward in IoT and the future looked bright. But Revolv is now an afterthought as the focus was on technology and its features and not on user experience (UX).
For other IoT companies to succeed (and be one of the devices in your house in 4 years), there needs to be a fusion of product design and technology that enhances the lives of its users.
Design and technology are separate worlds. How can they come together to create IoT 2.0?
When embarking on product development, it’s important to address the needs of the customer. So the design team will need someone who is highly experienced in user-centered design. If you can’t figure out how it will add real value to the customer, you’re not going to get very far.
The development team will also require a systems lead that has a significant understanding of design. If there is no understanding of the customer and UX, history will repeat itself and the device will fail.
UX is all about making things simple, so if users have to do too much to use the device, they will probably stop using it. So, IoT developers really need to follow a minimalistic philosophy when building for IoT 2.0.
The overall UX should feel unified, so inter-usability without any complex navigation is important. So, smart cross-device dashboards will play a crucial part in enhancing the experience of the end user (and the general inputs need to be universal in the context of the device).
On the other hand, the designers should also have an enhanced understanding of technology. Further, the development team should have a philosophy of building and testing and learn from it. As a result, observing the customer’s needs and behavior can help to maintain a positive UX.
Making IoT 2.0 a reality won’t be easy as development will be full of challenges from software to hardware. However, if the way developers approach the situation changes, to include product design and UX, there is a real possibility of turning what’s basically hype (at the moment) into existence.