Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and the rest of the crowd sourcing world are overrun with product ideas for connecting different things to the internet. Much like the dot com and mobile app booms before it, the internet-of-things hype is based in a true technological advancement that will bring great value to society. And like those booms, this one has its share of products that don’t offer any real value. Here are three things to think about when designing your IoT product.
- Put real intelligence into the product. A great product always delivers real value to the consumer. All too many of the first round of IoT products are simply connecting a sensor to an app. While some early adopters will buy a product just for the connectedness cool factor, real success comes from processing data into actionable information for the user. When providing information, do so in the simplest manner possible. Too many companies try to offer an app when a web link is all that’s needed. Users are overburdened with useless apps. If a push notification and a web site covers the user’s needs, do that. Keep it simple.
- Make sure you have a high-quality, well integrated product. Developing an IoT product involves a wide range of engineering skills. Even the simplest IoT product will need mechanical engineers for the case parts, electrical engineers for the PCA’s, embedded firmware engineers for device side code, mobile app developers, web developers and backend database engineers. Few companies have that breadth of engineering talent in house. Partner with firms that can provide the skill sets that your company lacks, make sure they’re good at working with a broad team, and, above all, determine your integration strategy early on.
- Use a pre-certified wireless module. It’s tempting to grab the latest development kit and start hacking away. However, antennae design and FCC certification of an “intentional emitter” are not for the faint of heart. While the individual part cost of a module is higher, the cost, schedule and stress saved by using a pre-certified module are well worth it for all but the largest organizations and highest volume products. TI has created a nice white paper describing decision factors for make vs. buy for wireless modules. EMC Fast Pass also provides a nice discussion.
- Four? OK, I lied, it’s a top 4 list. I was told that the best titles were “top 3” or “top 5”. I figured it was better to provide an extra than to come up one short. So, #4: If you follow my advice about adding intelligence and put some real data processing either on-board or in your app, do not do the algorithm development in the embedded or handheld device. I’ve seen all too many people handicap their development effort by trying to develop complex data processing algorithms on an embedded system. All development should be done in the most efficient manner possible. For algorithms, this means developing in something that allows fast iteration, visualization tools and the ability to regression test your algorithm against many data sets. I prefer Matlab for algorithm development, but Octave and Python (with Numpy and Scipy) are great options too.
The IoT space is exploding and offers an incredible number of exciting opportunities. Unfortunately, with that excitement come a lot of low caliber products in addition to the outstanding ones. Following the tips above will help your product stand out from the noise. Best of luck in your IoT product development!