We’ve been writing a lot about the sharing economy in the past few weeks. That’s why I wanted to depart slightly from our usual discourse and focus my attention on a different technology-driven growth sector – the Internet of Things (IoT).
Industry experts have painted IoT as the next promised land of innovation and growth in tech. According to recent reports, it’s set to become the largest device market in the world and twice the combined size of the smartphone, PC, tablet, wearable and connected car market by 2019. Whilst industries like manufacturing, healthcare, logistics and retail have been early-adopters of IoT in its various applications, consumers are not yet quite sold on the concept of smart homes, smart clothes and the rest.
This is not for a lack of trying, though (as hilariously demonstrated by the collected industry bloopers on the Internet of Shit Twitter page). However, in order for IoT to hit it home with the masses, it has a lot of work to do on its consumer sensibilities. Here are the four things IoT needs to get better at to get technology illiterate people on the bandwagon:
1. Selling itself as a solution rather technology for the sake of technology
The tech industry is famously absorbed with its own cleverness, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that IoT is being peddled first and foremost as an innovative piece of technology. Whilst this caters well to tech enthusiasts and is an effective way to build early hype, it doesn’t provide enough incentive for laypeople to engage with it. Instead, IoT makers need to embrace the fact that the devices are a means to an end; being able to clearly communicate their purpose will be the difference between failure and success. Sonos, which is for all intents and purposes an IoT company, is a good early example of how to do this right. Products like Toasteroid, on the other hand, are not. Just because we can build it doesn’t mean we should.
2. Simplicity and consistent usability across providers
Having a beautiful technological solution does little good if no one knows how to use it. This has been particularly problematic in the IoT space as numerous companies race to the market with no time to establish a common framework on what the IoT user experience should look like. Consequently, from the user perspective, each device also has its own learning process which again raises the threshold for consumers to adopt a new piece of IoT technology.
3. Offline work capabilities
This might undermine the very concept of the Internet of Things, but IoT devices should ideally have some capacity to carry out their basic functions offline. Why? Because many of the functions IoT is trying overtake are simply too important to be left at the mercy of a shaky internet connection. Already there are numerous stories of smart pet-feeders leaving their pets starving for hours and smart thermostats going haywire and taking “timeouts” due to server issues. As IoT spreads itself to more and more areas in the home and everyday life, it is vital that there is an offline backup solution if the internet connection of the device is interrupted.
4. Security and data privacy issues
This is the biggie. There is some consensus among industry experts that the biggest obstacle the sector will have to overcome is the negative public perception regarding IoT data security. The two-fold nature of the problem – unease over data falling into the wrong hands and unease over it being used inappropriately even when in the right hands – makes this particularly tricky. No amount of elaborate technical solutions will convince the general population that their data is safe from devious third parties and shifty advertisers unless IoT producers can prove this in action. For this reason, the speed at which this technology will be adopted will rely heavily on building a solid data security track record.
So there you have it. Take note, people of the IoT sphere: you may be building technology that will change the way we go about our lives, but there are some steps you still have to take to lure us into your Skynet-like utopia (or dystopia – it didn’t actually end too well in the movies).