Explore the challenges around ubiquitous interactions
What are the developments that will lead connected devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) into maturity? An analysis of the market and the directions taken by important players in the sector show that the journey towards Gartner’s Plateau of Productivity will go through some consideration, articulated around cross-interactions and interfaces.
The rise in the general public’s use of IoT is down to the first generation of devices that were restricted to end-to-end connections. Whether it’s a bracelet for measuring our everyday activities, a connected thermostat or even a light bulb, the information circulates between the device and an online service via the user’s smartphone or Wi-Fi connection. Interactions are often limited to simply reading information (“How many steps have I done today?”) or to a remote-control style-function (“Set temperature to 20°C for when I get home”).
The upwards growth of connected devices (8.4 billion in the world in 2017 according to Gartner, and 20.4 billion expected in 2020) means we have to go beyond this model where each device works with a mobile application or its own web service. This evolution is driving sector players to think up developments based on several approaches.
Connected is good, but interconnected is better
The first challenge consists in developing interactions which go beyond the device’s scope as it were. In the domestic world, the latest products from American company Nest (bought out by Google in 2014) or from French company Netatmo illustrate this approach well: their security cameras can activate light switches or the blinds when they detect a possible intrusion. Linked up to the same network (often home Wi-Fi), these connected devices trigger a chain of actions without any specific intervention from the user.
Whilst connecting a device comes down to adding an additional service to it, putting these different devices onto a network will allow us to respond to more complex issues. Let’s take the example of a hotel room where all the elements are connected. Before even arriving, the overnight guest will receive a virtual key on their smartphone to open the door and choose, remotely, the temperature of the air conditioning, the movie on demand to watch, and what time to run the bath. In this way, the guest foregoes the need for remote controls, switches, and other specific interfaces. The user is also able to find their preferred settings in any hotel that has integrated the solution.
User experience: setting us free from our smartphones
Why do Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft spend so much energy on developing voice-based personal assistants? Behind the little Echo, Home, HomePod or Invoke speakers we can find the will to offer a service with a universal interface between the user, their devices, and their favourite services.
Mastering French is still a little behind, but Google Home is already guiding Netflix, a Philips Hue connected bulb or a Nest camera using voice recognition in the language of Molière without the slightest problem. And if we don’t want to or the situation doesn’t allow us to talk? Then the first screen, tablet, smart TV, fridge door or car dashboard will take over.
When put into a network and made accessible by shared interfaces, connected devices allow us to write user scenarios which will last over time. The typical example is the home alarm which deactivates itself when the owner’s car approaches, and opens the living room blinds and shows their favourite TV show on the screen.
We can also imagine a professional environment in which the user can interact with their voice assistant to display assembly documents on a connected screen, ask for a spare part which will be brought to them by a robot, and for example consult an operational procedure mode through augmented reality glasses, enabling them to complete their processes to the right standards.
Lastly, users expect the different devices available to them to contribute to a whole, global experience, and for the interaction to be as transparent as possible. They can then choose the most appropriate device depending on whether they are alone, with someone, handsfree or not, etc.
Mesh platforms and a meeting with AI
Integrating artificial intelligence into this ecosystem will allow us to use the information resulting from all the different components in order to refine our knowledge of the user’s context, and thus personalise services, adjust responses, anticipate the user’s expectations and further increase the realm of possibility. Jarvis just has to behave himself!
Whilst we wait for IoT to join the field of AI, one important question remains; that of the interoperability between the different systems currently held back by the commercial rivalry between the different players involved. It is, then, a question of setting up mesh ecosystems (linking applications, devices, and terminals), using platforms that connect devices and applications together to support global user journeys. As soon as this restriction is overcome, the promise of ubiquitous interactions will bring about infinite possibilities for the sector’s specialists, whether they are hardware designers, integrators, distributors or service developers.