Eliminating friction in IoT

The following is a discussion framework to better understand how users will experience your IoT product and potential barriers to uptake and usage.

Each section highlights an area in which a connected product can create additional difficulty and friction for users over the same device without connectivity.

Most connected devices have non-connected counterparts that are often not viewed as having problems. Connected devices, while offering additional value, often increase complexity to the point that the value is not considered enough to use the connected portions of the product. When producing a connected device, it it’s important to remember that the value created with the new connectivity must outweigh the pain that connectivity brings

Value > pain

The following list provides the most common areas for users that offer complexity, confusion, and pain moving into a connected device system.

  • Device proliferation / additional devices: As a rule of thumb, each device and/or interaction touch-point you add into a connected device system will increase the systems complexity exponentially. Users will need to understand what each physical and digital touch-point is for, when they should use it, and why.
    Recommendation: Align the number of new inputs, outputs, and hardware connections with any connected device to the intention of how the customer uses it. For each device and touch-point added, determine the points of complexity that users may be confronted with, and then find ways to solve, or make invisible, the most common points of friction. This will allow the user to benefit from the value in the device without experiencing the pain.
  • Device set-up: Every connected device will have a set-up procedure. This will inevitably be more complex that a non-connected counterpart. Set-up offers a variety of complex or messy interactions for users (ex: entering device numbers, scanning codes, pressing buttons to connect technologies, creating a log-in). Users will be least likely to understand why set-up is needed as many may not be technically savvy and used to non-connected devices. Any set-up is friction for users, but poorly designed set-up processes can result in catastrophic results, be that returning the product, or giving up on using its connected parts.
    Recommendation: The less number of steps users need to address during set up, and the clearer the system is in explaining set up, the easier users will be able to immediately use, and start seeing value from their connected devices.
  • Technology proliferation and compatibility: Connected products have a variety of technologies they can choose to work with. Each technology will have different effects on the product, its price, its services, and the end user experience. The proliferation of technology being used also means additional difficulty with interoperability. This leads to many devices needing a hub / gateway / bridge to act as a translator between the IoT protocol and the internet to connect to outsides services or screen based devices. It’s important to understand that no user wants, or may even understand what a bridge does — it’s an extra piece of hardware they didn’t want. To assist in solving this, companies have created aggregator platforms and applications that products can tie into. This gives flexibility in how users interact with the connected devices. However these still aren’t able to merge all technologies and are often created agnostic of products, which creates a sense of generalization to those applications.
    Recommendation: There is not a single right answer for the specific protocols and platforms to use within IoT devices. Companies should look at such aspects as protocol commands, battery / power consumption, user interaction points, platform ability, and external usage to assess what technology and platforms may be best to use and integrate with. Companies must also understand what technologies may have lower barriers of usage, or could make use of other products in the house to make these technology barriers lower.
  • Proprietary technology: Many companies may opt for proprietary technology to have stronger control over the product experience or data collected. Customers, consumer or enterprise, may or may not realize what parts of their device are proprietary (open or closed) and not understand why their connected products don’t work together better with other connected products.
    Recommendation: Before deciding to use proprietary technology or develop anything from scratch, ensure there are no better options to tie in to — from platforms to white labeled software. With proprietary technology, customers may become locked into an ecosystem. While some companies can see this as a positive, this often limits customers ability to extend a system, connect it with other open products, and maximize it’s usage. These situations could lead to abandoning the product early.
  • Application fatigue: 88% of smart phone usage is in users top 5 applications. Users often do not want or need more applications, but want the easiest ways to interact with a company’s product or service. There is a high barrier to usage for applications on a phone that are rarely used. A user must get their phone, unlock it, find the application, start it, then access the control they need. This amount of effort may be overwhelming in the face of taking a few steps to interact with a physical device. More technologies are becoming available on phones that reduce the barrier of accessing applications, or as HomeKit has done, incorporate into the OS — companies should review to find the strongest ways for users to interact with the service and devices across all 5 screens and into the no-screen UI territory or voice.
    Recommendation: Companies need to consider the full range of input and out methods available to them. There are many options to engage users beyond a single application, and those options may be much more useful to users, and thus create a more positive link between users and their products.
  • Multi-user environment: With traditional products and devices, there is a single spot (the device) that users interact with. Even with multiple people in a house, there is a single point of interaction. This means that the last person to interact with a product will take precedent. It’s a simple and effective interaction model easily understood. With connected devices, each person who accesses the device can do so with software, making a more complex system. Users may access the same product at the same time, thus creating a need for a system that can reflect the machine state and create rules for merging commands are multiple users use a device.
    Recommendation: The system must always display the status of the device so any users in the system is aware. The system must also display when a change happens if other users are using the system. This should be reflected both in the software, and on the hardware itself. Companies will also need to consider what will happen when a user is interacting with both a software touchpoint at the same time another user is interacting with the physical hardware.
  • Price: While not directly related to the experience of the product, the price of connected products can often set lofty expectations combined with barrier to entry for those who may question the value of connected products.

In Conclusion

Any company bringing products into the connected device / IoT space must understand the different points of their experience that will cause users friction and lower their overall level of happiness with a product. This list is not exhaustive. It provides a foundation for teams to build upon. These elements can also provide insights into the technology and business requirements.

As friction is lowered, connected devices can become common place in users homes and companies can begin to see the benefits from their investments into this space. Ecosystems can be built and new opportunities will be created as more products are effortlessly connected.