Do you have the right idea about IoT (Internet of Things)? It may not mean what you think it means!
If you’ve been monitoring news about the Internet and modern technology, it’s a fair guess that you have encountered the phrase Internet of Things. Usually, people just call it IoT. While it does seem to represent an exciting new stage in high tech, there’s a problem: what the heck is it?
What we have with IoT is something nebulous, like the concept of justice. It seems like people have different ideas on what it means. Never mind how people disagree on which direction it should take. Like politics, you can’t get everyone to agree on how technology should evolve in the future. But the problem with IoT is that people can’t even agree on what it means now.
It’s probably understandable. It’s called the “Internet of Things”. Sure, people do have the same basic idea of what the Internet is. It’s just that people tend to disagree on exactly what those “things” are.
It’s only recently that the phrase became a hyped-up byword in tech articles in mainstream publications. Some people even believe that it’s a new concept. But the reality is that it’s actually an old idea. Tech entrepreneur Peter Lewis coined the phrase “Internet of Things” way back in 1985 when he gave a speech in D.C. That was a long time ago, and the Internet wasn’t even a true reality yet.
Lewis defined IoT as “the integration of people, processes and technology with connectable devices and sensors to enable remote monitoring, status, manipulation, and evaluation of trends of such devices.”
IoT and Home Automation
Over the years, people seem to believe that the “things” in the Internet of Things refers to the interconnected gadgets we use. Admittedly, it’s easy enough to understand why so much media attention has been focused on these gadgets. These devices are evolving at a rapid rate, and they keep on improving and developing. As each year passes, they become more sophisticated.
One simple illustration of what the public sees as IoT is the use of the smart bulb. In the old days, you need to manually flick a switch to turn on the light. Now that’s no longer the case.
Instead of walking to the wall switch to turn on the light, you can use your smartphone instead. A smart light bulb has tech features that allow it to connect to your Wi-Fi so it’s also connected to the Internet. Your smartphone also connects to the Internet through Wi-Fi. This setup allows you to control your smart light bulb through an app.
Now with this setup, you have more sophisticated means of turning off the light. You can use your smartphone like a TV remote, and turn the light on or off with the smartphone. You don’t have to be there in the room either. The app can tell you if the light bulb is on while you’re in the office, and you can turn the light off from there. The app can give you a virtual switch and you can use it to turn off the light.
In fact, with the app, you can even program the light bulb to turn on and off at programmed times. You can do this to keep the light turning on and off to make it seem like you’re at home. You can even connect the light bulb to a sensor or a security camera, and have it turn automatically on when the sensors detect someone’s presence.
So now we have a smart light bulb, a smartphone and an app, your Wi-Fi, and maybe even your security camera interconnected through Wi-Fi. You have lots of gadgets working together.
But is this the Internet of Things? Are the gadgets and the “things” the same thing? People seem to think so, but that may not be the best interpretation.
User Point of View
When you have a light bulb and a switch, it’s easy enough to understand how to operate the light bulb. You can flick the switch to a certain direction, and it can turn on. Flick the switch the other way, and it turns off. It’s so simple. You don’t have to read a manual or watch YouTube videos online for you to understand how it works.
The same thing goes with a good smart light bulb and an app in a smartphone. As the user, you don’t even have to understand the details of how it works. You don’t need to know the science of how your app and your smart light bulb work and how they transmit data through the Wi-Fi. You just need to use the app properly and then you can activate or program the smart light bulb to turn on and off whenever you want.
Developer Point of View
The developer needs to understand the user’s perspective. That means they have to acknowledge that the user has no real need to understand the complex science required for the smart light bulb or an app.
Instead, the developer has to keep things simple. Using the app must be as intuitive and easy to understand as the wall switch of a regular light bulb.
This is the usability factor, and it’s crucial for the light bulb and the app to gain mainstream success. People will tend to reject gadgets and features that they don’t understand. It doesn’t matter if the people understand how it works. They just have to understand what to do to make it work. That’s the crucial difference.
Changing Your Mindset
Basically, you have a light bulb and a smart version of it, and they’re the same thing. You have a wall switch, and now you have an app. They’re the same thing too, as they both work as the switch.
Thus, the Internet of Things isn’t really about interconnected gadgets. They’re about interconnected concepts. That’s how people and developers need to see IoT for it to become more prevalent.
You can’t focus on the advancement of the technology. These advances must be out of sight. For users, it’s about how easy things are to use. Focusing on easy UX is also how developers must see IoT. So even while IoT devices keep on getting more sophisticated, the real challenge is to keep it simple!