The Internet of Things (IoT) represents a fundamental shift in the paradigm of personal computing.
For the vast majority of my life computing has been human-centric: a person has been the operator and, consequently, has initiated any communication that might take place between machines.
But all that changes with the dawn of the IoT.
We are entering an age where devices will be interacting with each other, recording data about their environment and interactions, responding to queries and then communicating raw data back to some central location for analysis.
On the surface that model is not much different than how many systems work today, but the fundamental change will be that few, if any, humans involved in the process.
In this new era of computing where machine-to-machine communication becomes the primary traffic traversing global networks, new challenges will emerge around the ways we interact with these devices.
In many cases the interactions will be unknown to us. Devices that we carry on us such as smartphones or wearable tech of some sort will communicate or query with other devices on our behalf.
Working in the Background
These interactions that take place without our knowledge clearly do not require our direct interactions.
And even though they are not directly part of the user interface for an IoT system, they are still part of the overall user experience and help to enrich the interactions that will drive value in the IoT ecosystem.
As we push forward with this evolution of the IoT and the role humans play declines, it will be even more important to have a refined and intuitive user interface.
This will allow the limited interactions that us humans do have with computers to be quick and intuitive.
The first step in refining the user interface (UI) and delivering a richer and more compelling user experience (UX) is using context to drive interactions.
It won’t be enough to simply identify individual sensors or devices on the network by their address or even their individual task.
Devices will need to be grouped by their collective context and the services they can provide to the user.
This type of context will have to be derived from a number of attributes such as the device's location, proximity to other devices and, of course, its capabilities. The various combinations of multiple devices and sensors will allow for a rich contextual architecture to be in place, which can then be accessed and manipulated by the user.
Even with a systems architecture built around a rich and dynamic context to deliver services, the way the user will interact and request these services will need to be refined to the point of intuitive simplicity.
Barriers will need to fall, like complex explanations in the UI imagery that is not universal.
Much in the same way that interactions with the current iterations of the smartphone has taken on a minimalist exterior, the way we interact with the IoT will need to be presented to us in its simplest form.
The Evolution of the Phone
In many cases our primary UI for the Internet of Things will be our smartphone.
This works out very well because it is a physical device that most people have a high level of comfort with and are familiar with its use and function. It is likely that this will lead to a much higher adoption of IoT devices and service sin the short term.
Ultimately the ideal user experience for the Internet of Things will be a passive one — one where devices anticipate our actions and carry them out for us as we move throughout the day.
The context derived from our daily actions will be interpreted and used to trend the next action or the next 10 actions we may require.
- When our fridge senses we are low on juice, the product will be passively ordered and delivered before we run out.
- When our running shoes determine the soles are wearing too low, replacements will be on the way.
- When we plug in our electric car, the charger will know we have a meeting later in the day and will rapid charge the battery so we have enough juice to get us there and back.
These might seem like simple things, because they are.
But as they add up and more of these interactions with the IoT become passive, they will save us time and improve our overall user experience — all while by hiding behind the curtain and just making things work.
Sure we have a long way to go before we get there, but it’s a user experience worth chasing.
Title image by Paweł Kadysz