Everything goes better with Internet. Deep down, that’s probably what’s allowed the Internet of Things to transform from being a visionary concept to an integral part in the product plans of major manufacturers and service providers in less than three years. Over the last 20 years, we've all experienced the benefits of being able to shop online or obtain formerly difficult-to-obtain information with a few keystrokes.
With that experience in mind, it didn't take much of a conceptual jump to understand how connectivity and intelligence would enhance consumer products or commercial equipment. Companies aren't questioning why they need to integrate Internet capabilities, the question is how.
So what works?
Here are some general observations and trends we've recognized and advise to our manufacturer partners:
1. You Can Never Be Too Simple
The overall experience -- from buying the product to connecting it and starting to use it -- can never be simple enough. If the first interaction consumers (or even business owners) have with your product is punching in a series of commands, you’re already falling behind schedule. One of the reasons Nest’s thermostat took off is that the interface is intuitive. It even comes with a screwdriver so you don’t have to get one from the garage.
2. Connectivity Needs to Be Free
The connectivity part of the equation has to be frictionless too. Few consumers and businesses will want to pay for recurring service contracts for connecting each device. Manufacturers are going to have to bundle in connectivity for free or figure out how to latch onto existing broadband networks.
3. The Mobile App Defines the Experience
Consumers, and even business users, fully experience your connected product from the mobile application downloaded to their smartphone or tablet. The mobile experience will be the difference between success and failure for many products. While some manufacturers have clued into this -- the Silicon Valley upstarts often do -- many are not putting enough emphasis on creating an amazing user experience on the mobile.
The emphasis on mobile will also likely change product design. Not only will eliminating switches and buttons allow manufacturers to create cleaner, more modern-looking devices, taking them out will improve maintenance, reduce the bill of materials and simplify the interface. Consumers have dreamed of having a universal remote for years: it turns out they already own one.
4. Ask “What Do They Want to Know?"
Let’s say you make an Internet-enabled commercial air conditioner. The microprocessor embedded in the system will be collecting data on performance and operation on an ongoing basis. Applications based in the cloud will analyze the data for potential maintenance issues.
But what information do you want to give the maintenance manager? Do they want a regular stream of data? Or would it be better to send them simple commands, e.g., develop an app that makes their phone vibrate and glows yellow if a problem seems to be developing. What about the CFO? She may not want daily alerts, but probably could use a weekly report comparing different systems and buildings.