The Internet of Things (or IoT) is finally going mainstream. Not only do I read about it frequently online, but I’m now talking about it with clients at frog. Unfortunately, as it has become popular, it has also grown to the point where it can span everything from home Wi-Fi networks to smart cities. Much like the story of the three blind men describing an elephant, the essence of IoT depends on your point of view.
What we need is a simple breakdown, both physically and functionally, so we can discuss the many facets and challenges ahead. The simplest is to start by device category as there is a huge range of devices that can be thought of as being part of the Internet of Things. Fortunately, there are really only three broad physical categories: Bears, Bats, and Bees.
Smart devices require a significant shift in thinking
This blog explores how to design smart devices. But these new devices are just so new and require such new insights, that our quaint, old school notions of UX design are completely blinding us. We are stuck between the classic paradigm of desktop computers, and the futuristic fantasy of smart dust. The world is either fastidious or fantastic. The path ahead is hard to see. Alan Kay said the best way to predict the future is to invent it… but what if we don't know what we want?
SXSW is always a mixed bag. Much like Austin itself, it loves to be 'weird' so anyone coming to SXSW for a 'normal' conference always comes away a bit dazed and confused. That's part of its charm and why I've spoken there 3 years running: it's always weird, and usually worth it.
I've written previously that the history of mobile has been a long, painful process of copying desktop computers and then sheepishly realizing that it just doesn't quite work right. This is actually the way of all progress, not just in technology. Art and music follow a similar pattern of copy, extend, and finally, discovery of a new form. It takes a while to shed old paradigms.
Mobile apps are clearly successful and in some cases, very profitable. For me to say they MUST die appears to fly in the face of overwhelming evidence. But all things come and go, especially so in fast paced world of technology. When a paradigm shift occurs it's rarely because the old model is hated or even useless, it just can't take advantage of new opportunities. The old guard clings to their ways, angrily shouting that everything is perfectly fine, you're exaggerating!
Some innovations transcend short term competitive advantage
Since capitalism and design are, for the most part, governed by market forces, there's symmetry between them. Capitalism tends to be most effective at its lowest levels, meeting demand through efficient supply. Companies that do that well succeed and those that don’t fail. The same is true for design: At its "lowest levels," a clean look, a simple flow, and an elegant layout are fairly well understood and valued. Products that reflect these low levels succeed and those that don’t fail.
Moving beyond the desktop towards just-in-time interaction
So often what passes for vision is usually nothing more than tiny extensions of what is already known and safe. Of course, it’s only natural as people tend to think within what is most comfortable. I call this "Default Thinking" and have already discussed this in my first post, (it was initially discussed as far back as 1962 by Thomas Kuhn).
In my previous article, The Coming Zombie Apocalypse, I discussed how small, cheap, web-connected devices are overturning our old-school assumptions about devices and applications. It was a general introduction to the trend, and I'd like to drill deeper in this article by focusing on a core building block of this new order: the ability to store user data in "the cloud."
I assume most readers are familiar with the concept of cloud computing, but it's a very broad concept encompassing a wide range of technologies. This article will focus on a core aspect, the storage of a user's data outside of their personal devices. This is a very disruptive shift that enables user experiences that would be impossible with only local storage, and creates a new facet of design: the UX of data.
Small, cheap devices will disrupt our old-school UX assumptions.
Editor's note: Scott Jenson was the first member of the User Interface group at Apple in the late 80s, working on System 7, the Apple Human Interface guidelines and the Newton. After that, he was a freelance design consultant for many years, then director of product design for Symbian, and finally managed the mobile UX group at Google. Now a creative director at frog design, Scott will be exploring the future of mobile on his blog.