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Internet of Things: Six Key Characteristics

 

Creating Internet of Things products can place businesses and their product teams in an uncomfortable place by pushing them outside of their comfort zone. In the third installment of our Internet of Things series, we will explore six design characteristics to help guide IoT product teams as they set forth into uncharted territory.

The Internet of Things is a double-edged sword for designers of all stripes because “things,” or endpoints, can take on a myriad of form factors. The variability is a blessing and curse. With a field of wide open choices, how do you decide where to focus?

I have found myself at this crossroads of enthusiasm and practicality working with multidisciplinary teams on IoT products. While working on these projects, six key characteristics surfaced that make products inherently IoT. Each characteristic encompasses of a set of capabilities that can be dialed up or down depending on tradeoffs and decisions made in your design.

Intelligence

Together algorithms and compute (i.e. software & hardware) provide the “intelligent spark” that makes a product experience smart. Consider Misfit Shine, a fitness tracker, compared to Nest’s intelligent thermostat. The Shine experience distributes compute tasks between a smartphone and the cloud. The Nest thermostat has more compute horsepower for the AI that make them smart. 

Connectivity

Connectivity in the IoT is  more than slapping on a WiFi module and calling it a day. Connectivity enables network accessibility and compatibility. Accessibility is getting on a network while compatibility provides the common ability to consume and produce data. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is Metcalfe’s Law and it rings true for IoT.

Sensing

We tend to take for granted our senses and ability to understand the physical world and people around us. Sensing technologies provide us with the means to create experiences that reflect a true awareness of the physical world and the people in it. This is simply the analog input from the physical world, but it can provide rich understanding of our complex world.

Expressing

Expressing enables interactivity with people and the physical world. Whether it is a smart home or a farm with smart agriculture technology, expressing provides us with a means to create products that interact intelligently with the real world. This means more than just rendering beautiful UIs to a screen. Expressing allows us to output into the real world and directly interact with people and the environment.

Energy

Without energy we can’t bring our creations to life. The problem is we can’t create billions of things that all run on batteries. Energy harvesting, power efficiency, and charging infrastructure are necessary parts a power intelligent ecosystem that we must design. Today, it is woefully inadequate and lacks the focus of many product teams.

Safety

As we gain efficiencies, novel experiences, and other benefits from the IoT, we must not forget about safety. As both the creators and recipients of the IoT, we must design for safety. This includes the safety of our personal data and the safety of our physical well-being. Securing the endpoints, the networks, and the data moving across all of it means creating a security paradigm that will scale.

By framing IoT design with these characteristics, multi-discipline teams can work across their domains to make tradeoffs in interaction design, software architectures, and business models. Naturally a single product or service may choose to dial up or dial down these characteristics depending on the nature of user experience and constraints imposed by environmental and business factors.