As the Internet of Things becomes more prevalent and an integral part of our everyday lives, it seems like every company that makes just about anything is trying to get in on the action. While this can mean that we end up with devices that probably don’t need to be connected to the internet, it also means that a wide range of useful and life-changing products are on the horizon.
A key to developing a great IoT project is avoiding some of the most common pitfalls that other designers have already overcome. Innovation is important — reinventing the wheel is a waste of time and money. While not making these mistakes isn’t a guarantee that your product will be a success, it certainly increases the likelihood of that being the case.
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All too often, IoT development focuses on the devices themselves, not what they can do with the information the devices collect and then how to create a better experience for their customers. It’s not simply about connecting a device to the internet because you can. When you create a “thing,” it needs to have a purpose, and a clear benefit for the consumer — and you need to have a plan for how you will use the information you collect.
Otherwise, you risk creating a cool gadget that isn’t won’t be as useful as you’d hoped. Before you begin the design process, ask yourself a few key questions:
Why are we connecting this device to the internet?
How will connectivity benefit the users of this product?
What will we use with the data that we collect via this product — and how will we protect it?
Is connectivity important, or are we simply “gilding the lily” so to speak, and better served to devote resources to other projects?
It’s also important to consider costs in this stage of development. Is adding connectivity going to increase the cost of the product to the point where it’s no longer competitive in the market? Considering that you need to account for the development and manufacturing costs, as well as application development, security, and maintenance, it may very well be that cost concerns outweigh any benefits to connecting your device.
At the same time, it’s important to consider whether a small increase in costs is worth the potential benefits of adding connectivity, as there are times when adding connectivity can be just the boost your product needs. In short, it’s important that you look at all of the angles and avoid creating IoT devices just because you can.
If your company has made widgets for the last 75 years, and none of those widgets have ever been connected to the internet, and no one in your company has experience developing connected devices, trying to move in that direction could prove problematic at the very least. Even if you have the perfect product for the IoT and a great idea about how your customers can put it to use, you need technological expertise to ensure that the product design is carried out correctly. Best-in-class embedded design doesn’t happen by accident, so don’t be afraid to reach out to the experts for help bringing your idea to life.
Trying to wing it, and add connectivity when no one in your company has the in-depth knowledge to do so is a recipe for disaster. And again, if your company’s products have never been connected before, and there is no clear reason to do so, investing in IoT is most likely not worth your company’s time and money. Your best bet is to partner with another company, and carefully evaluate your options to prevent a disastrous and costly mistake.
The first step to any successful IoT project is research. By researching your customers, the market, and the feasibility of actually making your device part of the IoT, you actually put yourself ahead in the game, since so many companies fail to do their homework and simply jump into the development phase.
Before you begin your project, ask a few important questions:
Should we even connect this device?
What is the benefit to the user experience that connecting will bring?
Is the customer going to appreciate being able to connect, or will it be an unnecessary burden?
In addition to researching the why’s and how’s of connecting your device, you should also have a plan for defining the entire experience of using the product.
Look at it like telling a story:
What is the challenge that must be overcome?
What does the user experience look like from start to finish?
How does the project address the users’ challenges and allow them to overcome their challenges?
By developing this vision, your team can develop the product with this idealized experience in mind, and you have a head start on your marketing and sales strategy.
The IoT allows us to do so many cool things. It can also be inconvenient — or even worse — if the devices that are connected to the internet cannot be controlled when the Wi-Fi goes out. Imagine having to spend the night with the lights on or the day without air conditioning because the Wi-Fi or internet is down and you can’t change your settings. When developing IoT devices, you need to approach the project as two separate products: The actual device, and the connectivity component. This means including override switches or other alternative means to control or use the devices when there isn’t a connection. You should also consider other connectivity factors, such as slow or sluggish Wi-Fi, and how that will affect the operation of the device, as well as security.
There are other mistakes that can derail your projects — letting cost constraints negatively affect the user experience, for example, or a lack of communication between engineers and designers — but these are some of the most disruptive to the flow of your project. It’s quite possible that in the early stages you’ll discover that you don’t need to connect your products at all — or you might put in the extra time and effort and develop a product that revolutionizes the world of connected devices.