Compatibility of Internet of Things (IoT) and User Experience (UX)

Internet of Things (IoT) and User Experience (UX)


Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the fastest-growing fields which is driving new ways for interacting with appliances, tools, and devices in entirely new and unexpected ways. IoT is becoming a bigger part of our everyday lives — from our gym and walks to travel planning, home security, and countless other uses. As IoT devices become more common the user experience of using such devices becomes increasingly important. Being a new technology and on the other hand addressing the fact that users have a very low tolerance for the inconvenience of learning something new or doing something differently. That’s why user experience is very vital for IoT products.

Initially, IoT solutions focused primarily on technical capabilities. But with more than one-third of these new objects and services are abandoned by their users after only 6 months of use, it became a primary result of the fact that IoT significantly depends on the UX design for the connected objects. The UX community being new to IoT projects, there is still a lot to be done to develop new best practices specifically for IoT projects.




UX for IoT is different and complex because there are two sequences of interaction ie from user to the virtual system and from the virtual system to the physical system. Also, each physical system has its own set of interactions and moreover there are different users to use the application. Hence the designers have to face new challenges while working on IoT projects.

Therefore, as UX experts we need to know some of the challenges of IoT and find out if we can address them to provide good user experience for our users.

1. Connectivity issues
Internet of Things as its name suggests is primarily based on network connection as the internet is needed to transfer data between the app and physical devices. Most of the IoT devices require a good WiFi network.
We are used to occasional connectivity problems on our smartphones and computers like poor connection during a video call, slow websites, etc. Whereas we don't expect such problems with our physical devices like toasters, room lighting, and opening or closing doors. The user experience expectation of everyday physical things is different from that of the web. When we turn on room light, we expect an immediate response or else we assume that there is some defect with light. But when the internet connection is poor it may take a couple of minutes for the lights to turn on. The users might not be ready for such delays in response from physical products and might lead to frustration, worry or abandoning of IoT system. The first generation users certainly have to go through such problems.
Connectivity issues are going to have a significant impact on the IoT experience and there is little we can do about it since it is a technical problem.


2. Multiple apps for different devices
One of the main problems with IoT devices functioning is that there are plenty of connected devices. Individually these devices might be smart and useful, but as a team, they might not work in sync. Users need different apps for different devices and this becomes overwhelming and a plenty of mental overloads. In the current scenario, users cannot control the whole collection of IoT devices from a single app and make them sync the data. So for instance, if you have a smart car, a smart gym, and a smart toaster, and you have different apps to control them. You won’t be able to apply the rule to adjust the temperature in the room according to your workout data and start your toaster after 30 mins of workout and start your smart car as soon as you lock the door from outside. This does not give a unanimous user experience of all IoT products. This kind of broken UX can make the tasks more complicated whereas the purpose of smart devices is to make the user’s life easier. Another example can be lots of smart home apps don’t work together for example, a user might control the sound system with one app and lights with another. Even in some cases, lighting from different manufacturers may require different apps to control, which leads to bad user experience.

3. Synchronising Data
Another IoT design challenge is to separate the useful and irrelevant data while a lot of data is flowing from various sources and devices. Synchronising data flow between different smart devices is the key to UX design in the IoT platform and is also a difficult task.


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4. Third-party integrations
UX designers rely on the supplies from many third-party vendors to develop an IoT device. Different components (sensors, processors, controllers) from different vendors can be difficult to integrate and lead to disoriented user experience. Supplies such as application processors, sensors, controllers, and platforms may not all come from one supplier. Expecting different pieces to work together to produce a seamless UX might be impossible. IoT devices require repairs and updates after a certain interval. Third-party integrations are not always seamless.

5. Impact of hardware
Hardware is a big part of the solution in IoT products and, depending on its type and quality it has a large effect on the user experience. Hardware selection is generally based on the technical specifications, compatibility of running software and cost to the user. The combination of hardware impacts user experience to a large extent. In case the user chooses a lower-cost system, some functionality might not be applicable which compromises the user’s experience. Therefore it is important to select appropriate hardware components.

Conclusion
The key to creating great IoT user experiences lies in understanding the fluid nature of IoT and designing interaction for it. A good user-research is a must to understand the user’s expectations from IoT devices. The fundamentals always remain the same, just that the designer needs to spend more time understanding how IoT works.
In the IoT domain, a user task flow may span different devices, different interaction paradigms, and different contexts of use. This increases complexity by orders of magnitude for the designer. Conversely, user expectations are also increased because users expect the experience of using these disparate connected devices in concert to be more than the sum of their individual experiences.

About Author
Author profile picture Neha Srivastava

Neha Srivastava
Manager | User Experience | HCL Technologies, Noida 
Email   |  LinkedIn 


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