The cold/warm embrace of IoT

What drives adoption of IoT at the consumer level? Presumably convenience (easy to set up and use), enablement (delivers promised value), and (depending on the product) cost.

At the top level, there are going to be two types of “things”. Those we see (or interact with directly), and those we don’t. The ones we see (e.g. on-person devices, home digital assistants, etc.) will actually require some work on the part of the end user before they deliver promised value (similar to setting up a wi-fi network), which means the manufacturer or developer has to deliver a no-brainer experience.

However, ease of set-up is not enough, companies offering IoT have to also focus on the on-going experience, particularly when things start to wobble (which they will). Any IoT device is essentially some form of hardware/software widget connected to a network, which means that nearly any error on the network, or the OS, or the app, or the device hardware could tip it over. The consumer will blame what they can see (as usual), and since the IoT ecosystem is inherently complex, it’s going to be very tough to pinpoint where the problem lies. The manufacturers will say its someone else’s fault (as they always have), the consumer will eventually get frustrated, and move to a different variant of the product. The burnout phase is long enough that consumers are likely to buy into ongoing marketing hype (e.g. “check out the latest and greatest drone ever!”), which means a steady stream of new customers, and therefor less incentive for the ecosystem suppliers to deliver a seamless customer experience for those who’ve already drunk the kool-aid in the visible portion of the IoT spectrum.

The IoT devices we don’t see will and are actually faring much better; these are embedded devices that are already prevalent in industrial applications, and have been steadily moving into the consumer space, but (importantly) do not require the consumer to actually do anything. A very cool (if somewhat over the top) example is the new navigation system on a Rolls-Royce. The IoT devices on board get road condition information continuously from a satellite feed and automatically adjust the transmission to the specifics of what is ahead, and this is not just adjusting for slippery driving conditions, its something as basic as downshifting for an upcoming a curve in the road. This is something that is always on, and always there. This is a great example of the enabling swarm of IoT devices that are designed to make our lives safer and easier (I know the example applies to a car that costs over $400,000, but the technology will work its way down, and probably pretty quickly).

So bottom line, if you can see it, expect complications and challenges. Whatever the device is will work most but not all of the time, because there is a human (you) in the loop. On the other hand, the best IoT device is the one you don’t know is there, it just works, and works all the time, making your life just a little bit easier. Embrace the first category (even though it may occasionally be tedious) while the second category embraces you, whether you know it or not.

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