Future Proofing the Internet of Things
Much has been written about this wondrous age of connected devices. Our music automatically plays throughout our homes, our door locks know if we’re home or away, we arrive home to a lit and warm house. These wonders are enabled by Connected Devices that, one by one, are replacing our old speakers, locks, lights and thermostats. These devices are a fascinating mix of household utility and computing technology. The trouble is we still want and expect that these things must have the longevity of the generation of devices they replaced (10+ years) and lament that what we actually may get is the longevity of a piece of computing technology (~2 years).
While Connected Device lifecycles may never reach those of their “dumb” counterparts, surely we can do better than that of a typical PC or mobile phone. How do we get there?
While each product has its own unique attributes and therefore there is no one true path to extending device lifecycle (really, delaying obsolescence) here are some best practices.
Take the “smart” out of the device
This may be counterintuitive – after all the whole point of this age of devices is that they are supposed to be smart, learn our patterns, optimize their own utility. The trouble is that smartness has a cost in processing and storage. The device needs to get smarter over time, upgrade to support new functions. However, if the hardware designer tries to plan for this evolution with the resources he or she can embed within the device itself then the device will become expensive and still likely face unpalatable limitations within a short amount of time. But if we design our products to be “connected” and not themselves especially “smart” then we can outsource the smartness to the consumer’s mobile phone or the limitless Cloud. By offloading most of the smarts the devices themselves can become cheaper and more likely to last longer.
Make the devices open
Now that the devices are connected, how exactly is the smartness delivered and by whom? The product manufacturer is certainly the first party who should deliver compelling functionality. But by making the devices open for innovation by other parties, the utility of that device could expand exponentially and continuously. Take a look at the Philips Hue connected lighting products. Philips delivers great functionality out of the box via its own Hue app. But because the product is open, stunning innovations have appeared in a short time. Thousands of developers have invested their own time and capital into delivering Hue consumers new features and broad integrations with other household products. Philips themselves could never have done all this.
Put the consumer in charge
Product makers and the development community can do a lot to provide utility and ease of use but ultimately the consumer must be the king of his castle. We need to give the consumer a certain amount of education about things like safety and security of their connected home but then we should get out of the way and let them be in charge. Let them choose the service and apps they want to manage and control their connected home. Let them have transparency and control over where the data goes. Manufactures should not artificially limit innovation and inter-device compatibility via oligarchy-like closed ecosystems. Let the consumer decide.
Our lives with Connected Devices are going to be awesome. There’s an inevitability about how connected our things will be. However, the mass market arrival of the connected life will continue to be postposed until the vendor ecosystem begins consistently delivering products that are not just incredible today but continue to serve consumers well as the years go by.