The Internet of (what and when) Things?

The Internet of Things market will grow exponentially in the coming years: this is a fact. At a recent Parks Associates Internet of Things event in Amsterdam, pretty much all of the presentations were introduced with analytical graphs and data, all trying to explain the needs and possible marketing channels. Personally, I’m always a little dubious about data as this can always be manipulated to show desired results or premises.

However, the reality of Internet of Things is as follows:

– Adoption is slow

– Users don’t fully understand benefits or product proposals

– Ecosystem openness and Interoperability are a must

– Hardware installation can be clumsy, not to mention the pain of having to reinstall when you move home

– Industry´s product lifecycle expectancy is 10 years: will these products and related software stand “the speedy” pace of time?

– Users are wary of personal information usage and security

– Market Channels seem to be ill “defined” with little penetration and before we have even settled on these channels, the manufacturers are hungry for more.

Market Growth

Despite this, I stand my comment above that the market will grow exponentially. Perhaps the “stillness” and anxiety “to market” can be overcome by a new approach: making users/consumers understand the benefits of IoT as a service, rather than a myriad of interconnected devices with little purpose or relevance.

Two of the most interesting and “service oriented” approaches I’ve seen are by Centrica, an energy and services company (www.centrica.com) and Swiss Re (http://www.swissre.com/) a reinsurance company which were clearly approaching IoT from a service design perspective. And what is this? Well, the fact that to market appropriately IoT is not only about technology alone. Successful IoT solutions are multi-layered and not all happen in the “digital realm”, both Centrica and Swiss Re solutions combined digital and physical services all connected via IoT, and their numbers proved the cases because what Centrica and Swiss Re provided were putting users and their benefits first, rather than technological feasibility. Also, they made the experiences very transparent to the users.

At the same time, we can allow ourselves to let our imagination run a little wild since the possibilities are HUGE. This is demonstrated by some recent examples: Renault simbioz, Volvo, and Amazon Key. However, in my mind, the industry needs to think about users first, uses second, and technology third.

On the other hand, we may need to rethink the idea of “home” as we know it. Maybe we are still thinking of a 20th century home with 21st century devices hence uses and technology are still not aligned. And if we seem to have ill-defined the market channels “in the home” maybe we need to start thinking about “peripheral” possible benefits that relate to the day to day life of these possible consumers (like the Volvo example above).

The Power of Voice

Voice recognition is “BIG”, and it will be even bigger (in general, not only relating to IoT). From the presentations at the recent event, kids and the elderly seem to be the biggest users of voice recognition. For us in the “in-betweeners” demographic, the question remains whether we feel comfortable talking to machines. The industry is pushing the idea that we should forget the device and talk “naturally” to the environment. In this sense Google, Amazon, and Apple have taken the lead and are aggressively marketing their devices and voice solutions.

Voice recognition and analysis (making sense of what is listened to and reacting intelligently to the input) is getting better and better, but still has way to go. Regarding experiences, voice needs to be leveraged when thinking from a UX point of view: is voice the best input? Do I want to talk to my device to change channel or is it faster just using my TV remote (or another input device)? I rest my case. Voice will be a compliment in UX and to UI, but not a substitute. As UXers, we must start designing for voice interactions, and leverage on the myriad of touchpoints in the experiences we design: what interaction mode is best at what time, and for what interaction.

When it comes to European “voice” adoption there are some language barriers. Obviously, penetration in US (14mill to 1mill EU) is bigger as manufacturers of voice operated IoT devices only have one language to contend with: English. The scenario in Europe is more complex, with French, German, Spanish, and Italian as main (European) languages, and with many others needing to be adopted for voice operated devices to “take off”. Understandably this European Multilanguage market means slower adoption rates.

Who, when or what is listening?

An interesting theme that came up was one that has also been talked about a lot in the media: “are these devices listening all the time?” Well, manufacturers say they are not, that the devices only start “listening” once we use the “Trigger Word”, for example: “Alexa”, “Siri”. On top of this “trigger word”, both Amazon and Google voice operated devices have a microphone on/off button on the device, the question remains as with TVs, dolls and other connected devices whether they listen (even watch/monitor you) or not.

There is a great deal of discussion about this, from whether Facebook is listening and whether we even care, whether your TV may be listening and how to stop it if it is. Then of course there has been a great deal of discussion about the likes of Amazon Echo, and even fears around a smart Barbie that may be listening to your children.

Device skills

And one last interesting concept related to voice: “Skills”. Both amazon and Google provide their devices with skills: what it can do for you. Skills seem to be associated to product configuration and package offerings basic, medium, premium so to speak… There may be a market channel for monetization here solely based on design skills by third parties or device manufacturers themselves. Allow me to make an analogy, the same way an app economy developed for our mobile devices there is a space for skills (voice or other input) economy either ecosystem dependant or ecosystem agnostic… think about this one!

 

By Iñigo Orduña, Senior UX + UI (SELA)

Photo by Michail Sapiton on Unsplash. 

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