Across many industries, the market of everyday consumer products is being transformed by the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), both on the customer side via new functionality and on the manufacturer side with new insight into customers’ responses to products. Data – collection, processing and transmitting – is where value is found. Amidst the changing market, product development companies have to learn how to make the most out of what smart products allow, while competitors race to do the same. There are a few fundamental aspects to smart products that designers face when transitioning into smart products and services.
What Smart Products Look Like
The capacity to handle data is at the heart of what makes a product “smart” – smart products communicate. This is a broader definition than what many people will likely think of, though. Customers understand “smart”as wearables or home automation systems, but early models of smart integration typically start with gathering feedback on product use. Smart product designers should become familiar with three major components to these technologies:
- The physical component of the product, already extant but potentially in need of new manufacturing processes;
- The smart component, which gives the product a virtual “presence”, ranging from QR codes to fully embedded interfaces;
- The means of connectivity, wired or wireless, between the product and the manufacturer or customer.
Challenges of Smart Business Models
Making a product smart requires significant changes in development resources and allocation of funds, with some of the key issues being outside the normal domain of a product design engineer. The smart components added to the product are not purely physical but will also include software apps running on the product or alongside it (e.g. a mobile app that connects to a device or readsaIR tag). Connectivity must also be maintained with 24/7 support; a failure of manufacturer-side infrastructure can potentially interrupt or disable customers’ use of the product, especially as subscription-based models become more common within the IoT space.
The Projected Future of the Market
Predicting what the market will look like as smart products proliferate is difficult, but a few points are certain. Existing 20th century models of industry will swiftly need to be revamped or abandoned to account for digital connections. Product development companies will thrive by engaging with customers and establishing ways to gather insights on user needs and expectations so that your smart product designer can implement improvements that can be pushed out during software updates. Experimentation is critical as well, finding ways in which smart connectivity can further enhance user experience and exploring new business models both internally and in the customer-manufacturer relationship. The main takeaway should be this: pay close attention to developments in smart technology and the IoT and be ready to act.