Look around you and you will see thousands of “things” all within your immediate vicinity. Your keychain. Your desk chair. Your favorite coffee mug filled with Italian Roast coffee. Your dying ficus plant. With today’s technology, there is no reason why these things cannot communicate with you, in-real time.
- Your plant should tell you, not only that it needs water, but how much and what position to place it during the day
- Your coffee mug should know what kind of roast you want to drink today
- You should be able to find your keys at a moment’s notice because you have a bad habit of misplacing them the moment you are about to go somewhere
- Your desk chair should automatically adjust itself when it detects you are sitting with poor posture (reminder: stop slouching)
The Hardware (R)evolution.
While cliche, the world we are living in is becoming increasingly more connected, more now than ever before. While in research in development only a few years ago, technologies like RFID, NFC, and Zigbee are enabling the next generation of connected devices in a cost and energy efficient way. In fact, consumer goods that weren’t previously connected 18 months ago are now online. Recent examples, include:
- WiFi-enabled weighing scales. You can now be the proud owner of a weighing scale that will tweet out your weight and body fat percentage.
- Smart Refrigerators can now tell you what’s inside of it and recommend recipes to make for dinner.
- Intelligent toothbrushes will provide you actionable insight to improve your oral hygiene (reminder: floss more)
- Connected lightbulbs allow you to change its hue and control the lighting ambiance of your room via a mobile app
Getting offline products into the 21st century is only the tip of the iceberg. Enhancing these products with connected technologies has to transform the product experience, be personal, and have utility. The bar for product experiences is so high, not executing against these objectives will result in a gimmicky, failure of an experience.
For example: A shoe company may want to create a running shoe with a GPS Dot. These “online shoes” should not only track where (and how long) the user was running, but it should provide actionable insights based on what the shoe company already knows about you: recommend running trails based on your running style and preferences, alert you when your friends are close by, give you a discount if you walk by a their store, and let you know how hard to run based on your body fat and weight goals.
Utility vs. Privacy
Privacy generally is a topic of concern when more devices become online and “all knowing.” As we’ve seen from the internet and media today, and in light of recent NSA privacy concerns, users are willing to give up certain liberties to connect with friends (Facebook), share their thoughts (Twitter), utilize free email (Google), or make free international calls over the internet (Microsoft/Skype). We believe its important for companies who are contemplating an online product strategy understand these implications and balance the utility an online product with the user’s privacy and the company’s ethics/values.