A matter of years ago, speaking into wrist watches was an act reserved only for secret agents in Hollywood blockbusters.
These days though, most of us wouldn’t bat an eyelid at someone using a smartwatch that utilises AI-powered voice command technology. Brands like Apple and Fitbit paved the way for a market onslaught of these products over the past years, and now even designer brands such as TAG Heuer have their very own smartwatches.
However, it’s not just these watches that are on the rise. The Internet of Things more widely is growing: “Bain forecasts that the IoT market will double by 2021 reaching $520 billion.” That means that everything from smartwatches and smart meters to even smart toasters (yes, you read that right),
Why is the user experience of IoT important?
As with all products and services that are starting to become used more widely, the user experience needs to be a huge consideration in order for adoption.
As Jordan Medard highlights, it can be the difference between a product that sells, and one that doesn’t: “Although a great UX may not be enough to save poor functioning IoT products from commercial failure, a poor UX is almost guaranteed to limit the commercial success of even well-functioning IoT products.”
On top of that, as is often the case with emerging technologies, people are hesitant to adopt them. Worries about security and complicated interfaces mean that many would rather stick with what they already know. As such, “The user experience of all these connected objects is simultaneously the Achilles’ heel and the possible golden key for what makes IoT devices like wearables meaningful to people. People don’t want these objects in their lives if they can’t provide value, in their language, in a passive sort of way.” (The Creative Cloud Team)
What are the challenges?
However, mastering the UX of any emerging technology is no easy feat. And this is certainly true of designing and building IoT products and services, which come with a whole host of challenges.
UX in IoT Challenge one: Multiplicity of devices
Gone are the days of creating one, physical device and moving on from a project!
IoT as a principle means interconnecting a multiplicity of devices, so that they can “speak” to eachother and make life easier for the user. As you can imagine, this adds a whole new level of complexity to the design process.
Building cross-device user flow is a real challenge, as there are few common design aspects shared across devices.
Key considerations when designing for multiple devices
Arguably one of the most important aspects of good UX for IoT products and services is simplified onboarding.
Since the use of these products usually means switching between devices, there simply cannot be a complicated and truncated authentication process. Though, secure authentication is, of course, necessary. As Katherine Lazarevich highlights, “effortless authentication with code verification instead of passwords” is a promising start.
On top of ease of access, consistency is key! Switching between devices should not feel like switching between products. In fact, as much as possible, it should be seamless.
This is again explained perfectly by Katherine Lazarevich, who says that “responsive design in IoT goes beyond consistent experience on web or mobile. It covers all the devices, platforms and software involved. Therefore, it requires a tight connection between physical design and the functionality of each device as well as interaction design within the whole IoT system. Moreover, it needs a familiar and clear interface.” (source)
UX in IoT Challenge Two: Bringing together software and hardware
As we now know, IoT itself inherently means connecting various devices and objects. Not only is this a challenge in terms of creating cohesiveness, but in terms of knowing how to manage the project. After all, it means understanding and managing both hardware and software before bringing them together.
Focusing on the difficulties of creating good UX within IoT, Daniel Elizaldenotes that, “From a product development perspective, hardware and software are likely to be developed and managed by different teams. But keep in mind that users don’t really care who’s building what.” (source)
Key considerations when combining software and hardware for IoT
Understanding that your customers truly don’t care about who in your team is building what, it’s crucial to bring it back to the user.
User research is absolutely key within the designing and building of all products and services, but especially so in the case of IoT. Getting to know your users, their wants and their needs will allow you to better understand how they will utilise the hardware and software aspects of your IoT product to effectively bring the two together.