Products are often developed simply because certain technologies have become available, without a lot of thought given to why users need them.
By GH Rao
The Internet of things (IoT) has the potential to touch every aspect of our lives: from our bodies to our communities to our work places to a fully connected world. It also promises to improve our well-being, raise our quality of life, increase productivity and foster better cooperation and collaboration. In 2020, there will be $8.9 trillion in IoT-related revenues, IDC estimates. As we have seen many times before, however, promising technologies stay at the potential stage for a long time if more attention is paid to the technology than to the experience of the people actually using it.
Call it the “Principle of Great Expectations”” the greater the hype or estimated market size, the higher the likelihood of a rapid proliferation of products that are “tragically pathetic.” Products are often developed simply because certain technologies have become available, without a lot of thought given to why users need them or how to make them delightful to use. Take, for example, one of today’s most successful product categories: the tablet. The first product in this category, the GRiDPad, was introduced in September 1989. It was followed by other unsuccessful attempts to crack the tablet market, including the Apple Newton, in 1993, and the enterprise-oriented Microsoft Tablet PC, in 2002. It wasn’t until 2010, when Apple introduced the iPad, that the tablet became a successful mainstream product, appealing to both consumers and business users.
Nowhere is the disconnect between invention and successful products more evident than in wearables, the hottest segment of the Internet of things.
Do We Really Need So Many Watches?
After seeing hundreds of fitness devices on display at a recent consumer electronics event, Donna Hoffman asks: “How many watches do you need? Clearly consumers can’t use all of these different things and integrate them into their lives.” Hoffman is the Louis Rosenfeld Distinguished Scholar and Professor of Marketing at the George Washington University School of Business, the co-director of the Center for the Connected Consumer, and a longtime observer of consumer behavior in the digital world. She adds: “The churn rate on fitness devices is about 60 percent. People buy these things, use them for less than three months, and then never wear them again.”
“As far as I’m concerned, this is a very immature market,” said Bruno Aziza, the Chief Marketing Officer at machine-learning start-up Alpine Data Labs. An early blogger and speaker in the Quantified Self movement, Aziza has also observed the limited appeal of fitness devices. “Unless you are a Quantified Self geek, you are going to stop using these devices,” he said.
There is no question that significant advances have been made recently in how users and devices interact, and, more generally, in how products are designed. After 21 years of failed attempts, the iPad has finally succeeded in providing the right combination of weight, size, mode of interaction, and useful and engaging applications to create a sizable market for tablets. But will this be enough to make the Internet of things delighting and engaging to all users of all things, an Internet of Experiences? Or would we need a new conception of what constitutes great product design?
Design and Big Data
Two of the most successful tech innovators of this century, Apple and Google, have often been portrayed as taking different paths to launching products that users find appealing, easy to use and even addictive. Apple is obsessed with design; Google with data. Great aesthetics and “good taste” have been the foundation of Apple’s philosophy and business strategy since the company’s inception. Measurement, analysis, and data-driven decisions have guided Google since its founding. These two philosophies are now converging in the evolution of the Internet of things.
If the Internet of things is to provide real value to users, design and big data must be redefined and merged into a single philosophy for making products exciting and delightful to use. Great experiences will be provided by products that are designed to be almost invisible and revolve around the most useful and engaging data for their users.
Can We Get the Data to Work for Us?
To move from the Internet of things to the Internet of Experiences, products and services should be developed not only with an emphasis on making technology fade into the background, but also with data and its analysis at their core. The value of the “things” in the Internet of Experiences is measured by how well the data they collect is analyzed and how quickly feedback on this analysis is delivered to the user. The problem with the current crop of wearables is not only the poor design of the user interface but also the absence of relevant data and analysis.
For the data to work for us, we need to follow a few Internet of Experiences principles: The data should be collected in non-intrusive ways; it should be collected from all relevant sources; the user should be involved in deciding what data is collected and how it is analyzed; the analysis should be provided to the user (or another “thing”) in a timely fashion; and the analysis should provide value (e.g., benchmarks, recommendations, predictions), delighting users and encouraging further use.
The more inconspicuous and data-centric the technology, the faster it will spread among a growing network of delighted users. If we’re able to get technology to recede into the background and analyze the onslaught of data in a way that reveals its significance, the Internet of things will become a true Internet of Experience.
GH Rao is president of engineering services for the global services company HCL Technologies.