Guide to Building an IoT Connected Device
Building a connected device or developing your Internet of Things (IoT) and connected device go-to-market strategy? If so, there is a lot to consider. We get it. That’s why we’ve created this free eBook, Guide to Building an IoT Connected Device, including a hierarchy of needs for connected devices—our framework to help you and your team get started.
With a logical IoT framework in place, it’s easier to ask the right questions and cover all of your bases for your connected product. We should also note this discussion is focused on consumer connected devices, but the same framework can apply to industrial IoT products.
Here are the steps you need to consider when building a connected device, or what we call the "IoT Hierarchy of Needs".
Image 1:1: The IoT Hierarchy of Needs
The Connected Device
So like Maslow’s hierarchy, let’s start with the thing we can’t do without—the device.
A great product starts with solving a real customer problem. What customer need are you trying to meet? If there isn’t a need, no matter how technologically savvy the product is, it will fail.
Be prepared, the initial product roadmap is going to require the input of many individuals with varied skill sets. A connected device has many considerations at the industrial design phase, as it has both hardware and software problems to resolve.
Some things to consider at the device phase include:
- Industrial design
- Customer controls and interface
- Communication (between devices and/or with the network)
- Bill of Materials
What sets connected devices apart is that they are active participants in the networked world. Like a living creature they generate data, need updating, and require support. The data that is created needs to be shared and stored. And because they are connected to the network, they should be designed to be managed and controlled from anywhere.
Download This Guide as an eBook
Download this guide as a free eBook, Guide to Building a Connected Device
These “live” activities all have impacts on the industrial design. This is where processing, communication and storage come into play, as well as the ability for the manufacturer, a person, other devices or third-party services to interact with the device.
From a security perspective, security at the network level, connectivity to the cloud, as well as the ability for someone to physically hack into the device are all important areas for consideration.
Take a moment to review the example questions below. The answers to these questions obviously impact the design and therefore the Bill of Materials.
Example Questions During This Phase
- Will the device communicate with other devices and/or the cloud?
- How will the device communicate?
- Is it a sensing system? A controlling system, or both?
- How is it controlled (voice, application, switch)?
- What data will be stored in the cloud vs. in the device?
- How much processing power will it need?
- Will the customer be able to interact with the device directly or will this be through a mobile application only, or both?
- Will the device function when it loses network connectivity? If so how will the features be degraded, if at all.
The next phase in the hierarchy is delving into wireless connectivity. This may include a number of wireless radio options that will also impact the physical design of the device.
There are many wireless radios available and there is good reason for each of them as they all solve different problems.
In order to figure out which radio solution is right for your product you need to consider questions like:
- Is the device battery operated or plugged in?
- Where in the home it is going to live?
- Is it going to move around?
- Are there going to be other devices around it?
- What communication protocol will it use?
Data costs are absolutely crucial when operating many thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of devices. We can't stress this enough—a data-hungry device framework can mean the difference between profitability and a failed product.
State-of-the-art IoT protocols and cloud frameworks must be used so that network costs and overhead will be kept to a minimum throughout the life of the device (more on that cloud component later).
Gateway to the Network
Next you will need to access the internet somehow to communicate with the cloud. IoT gateways perform several functions such as connectivity, security, device management and protocol management. Also, sometimes they act as a local controller or storage for data.
Gateways are becoming increasingly intelligent as IoT products evolve. For example, more recent gateways can do some level of “autonomous” processing—enabling manufacturers to make IoT products even smarter and more efficient.
If your device uses a technology that doesn’t natively speak IP (ZigBee, Z-wave, Bluetooth, etc.) then the gateway or bridge will play an important role in bridging that device to the outside world. But even if you use a WiFi radio in your device, then the home’s WiFi router will still need to act as a reliable gateway to the internet.
Understanding how you plan to achieve connectivity is important as you may need to supply this gateway along with every device. Otherwise, you must plan to use a gateway already available in the home, like a WiFi router, or piggyback off of a third-party hub.
Most consumer connected devices are accessed by people through a mobile application. Applications must be easy to use as well as have the ability to authenticate users, manage passwords, manage various customer use cases, and work across many mobile operating systems (iOS, Android, etc.).
You will also need to consider how and where the end user downloads the application, how it will be maintained and supported, as well as upgraded.
The mobile app is really a product in and of itself.
We've learned this first-hand over the years developing the popular Yonomi consumer app. The Yonomi app makes it simple to integrate all of your smart home devices and design automated routines using a single service.
This experience in building smart home apps is what drove us to launch Yonomi One, a SaaS solution that can manage these same complex tasks of device integration and automation in any third-party app.
If mobile application development is not your core competency, you may want to consider a third-party developer solution such as Yonomi One to power your app.
Your device and mobile app also need to communicate with the cloud. This can be two-way or one-way communication. For example, you may remotely update the device’s software, supply fixes, or request something from the device where you need a response. Of course the device will also be gathering data, such as customer usage data or sensor data that you will want to manage and store.
Authentication, management, APIs for your devices and users, and device lifecycle management—such as secure device communication, commissioning, provisioning, and delivery of firmware updates—all take place in the cloud. This all needs to be managed in a very secure environment.
The cost of accessing, storing and sharing data is also huge consideration.
You will also need to define requirements for management tools to stay on top of the health of devices in the field and support and engage your customers through real time analysis and historical logging of customer activities.
Application programming interfaces (APIs) available via the cloud enable developers to control and manage the device, access data, and integrate with third-party devices and services.
All of this complexity is exactly why the Yonomi team developed ThinCloud. Yonomi ThinCloudis a massively scalable, lightweight Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) designed specifically for smart home devices and apps.
Industry leaders like Schlage® use ThinCloud rather than reinvent the wheel by designing a cloud framework from the ground up. Building on ThinCloud frees their developers to focus on value adding activities like service development and evolution, along with upgrades, support, fixes, and management.
Now that you’ve defined requirements around the physical device, wireless connectivity, gateway needs, the mobile application, and the cloud, it’s time to self-actualize and integrate with the greater IoT ecosystem!
99% of integration with third-party services happen in the cloud—so again, be aware of how important a strong cloud strategy is.
Not to mention that there are numerous products and services your customers will expect you to partner with, each with their own APIs and requirements. While building one or two connectors seems easy, dealing with every protocol and certification process required to build 10, 20, or 30 integrations can quickly eat up all of your developer resources.
Yonomi has built up our own smart home ecosystem over the years through developing the Yonomi app and the Yonomi Platform. This ecosystem now includes over 100 devices from the top names in smart home—Amazon Alexa, the Google Assistant, Sonos, Philips Hue, LIFX, Nest, ecobee, Honeywell, and more.
Both Yonomi ThinCloud and Yonomi One provide opportunities to tap into this robust device ecosystem and stay up-to-date in the market as we add more and more devices for years and decades to come.
Whether you decide to manage integrations in-house or through a third-party ecosystem, make sure your team stays up-to-date on the shifting demands of the smart home consumer. Failing to make your device compatible with the latest "it" product—like the Amazon Echo or Google Home—can sink a product before it leaves the harbor.
Where Does Yonomi's IoT Platform Fit In?
While each stage in the IoT Heirarchy of Needs is as important to consider as the next, we developed the Yonomi Platform to focus squarely on providing value along the top-half of the pyramid.
While there are many options when it comes to product engineering or app design, we have seen a huge need for third-party services in this "last mile" of the connected device roadmap.
Spending months or years building a cloud framework or integrating with third-party devices can bog down developer resources that could be better spent elsewhere. In an industry where there are few consolation prizes, being months or years behind is becoming unacceptable.
Whether your team is in the early product design stages or has already launched a connected device, it's never too early or too late to be looking at your cloud or integration strategy. Getting familiar with the best strategies and tools now can set your team on a winning trajectory in the rapidly growing smart home industry.
Download This Guide as an eBook
Download this guide as a free eBook, Guide to Building a Connected Device
Learn more about Yonomi ThinCloud