Innovating IoT Product : The Developer’s Guide

The Internet of Things (IoT for short) is the given name for any product that has an internet connection. Now you probably knew that, why? Because everyone has been talking about it FOR YEARS. Now, let’s ask a simple question

“Are you capable of developing IoT Tech?”

The reality is that whilst the IoT tech has been in development for what feels like an eternity, it’s only really very recently that certain stars have aligned allowing IoT Tech to filter down to the masses. Stability of High-Speed Internet, falling cost of computing hardware, the rise of SMART hardware and Lifestyle Tech, and believe it or not your smartphones, these are all contributors that have really driven the mass uptick in IoT products

However, if you have kept up to date with the development of the IoT Industry you’ll be familiar with phrases such as: “In 5 years time all (X Products) will be IoT connected!” or “In just a few years time everyone will have (Y IoT thing) in every home!”. And then in 5 years time….., they’re still saying the same things. The truth is, IoT is still very much in its infancy; but it’s a big infant.

Some products have started to really mature, and carved a stake in the IoT World. Take the Amazon Echo (Alexa) as a product stand-out, which is now on its 3 version since its release in 2017, and has sold more than 100 million devices. Although others have made a big splash and sunk. To stay with Amazon, who recently killed the Dash button (A physical, internet-connected, button that allowed you to re-order products when they ran out with a single click). As is the case with many products, IoT products, are not immune to market forces, and whilst some have stellar success, some will fail spectacularly.

So as a product developer, what steps can you take up front to avoid a flop, and to really create a product that people will love and adore?

Firstly, a product developer should have a keen focus on understanding the market, trend, and history. 

So you’ve either had a killer idea, or you’ve been tasked with helping someone bring their killer idea to the world. Well before you put pen to paper, before you even think about making a move: do thorough research. Ask some fundamental questions first:

Does the product already exist? – Competitive Rivalry

If you can’t find it on the market then has anyone ever tried to bring something similar to market? – If yes then why did it fail?

Does it rely on a specific technology? – Pros: Barrier to entry & Cons: could supply chain become an issue down the line? Is cost an inhibitor?

How easy would it be for someone else to create a similar product?  – Threat of substitute products or services

Remember : just because you have found a niche market doesn’t mean that there is a market in the niche. So research it thoroughly, understand the market, and then you will know how to more effectively move forward.

Do you play nice with other?  — “Open source Vs Closed system”

So if you’ve ever bought any smart home products such as smart lights, smart thermostat, cameras and more the chances are you brought them from different suppliers. You might have got Phillips Hue lights, a Nest Smart thermostat and maybe a Canary Security camera. Now the next real pain you will find is that if you want to use any of these products you have to open the respective app for each one. They don’t necessarily talk to each other. Fortunately they each made a brave decision to allow integration between their services for the benefit of the user. So you can control all of the these devices via your Amazon Echo. Simply saying: “Alexa, turn the lights off”, your echo will act as your virtual butler and carry out your bidding by talking to the various third party systems.

Now this wasn’t always the case and it’s where everyone needs to make a decision: do you open up your system to allow it to talk to and be spoke to by third party systems, or do you shut your doors and keep it all within a closed-loop. A closed-loop being only your products or services will be able to talk to your products. This is a really big decision and as will most products the answer is: it depends…

Now my default advice is if you are making a consumer electronic IoT product, then you need to make it open source (that is allow API’s so that other can talk to your devices, and you can talk to other devices). If an end customer buys your product then the likelihood is that they probably will already have at least one more IoT device at home. Consumers experience real pain and frustration when their products don’t behave how they expect and they have an expectation (reasonable or not) to control all of their devices in a similar way or for their devices to work harmoniously. To not work harmoniously is suicide. Users won’t re-invest time and money in upheaval of their existing products in order to commit to your closed system. Not matter what the cost is users will never see the value. So play nice, and be as open as possible without risking your intellectual property.

Now where it gets more difficult is in the broader IoT; particularly Industrial IoT. Where I would always give the biggest amount of consideration is Security. Is the data your handling highly sensitive? If your system were to be hijacked is there a risk to life, or livelihood? What would the cost of failure be? These are the kinds of BIG questions that will tip the scales towards closed-systems. If you can’t be sure your system is secure and allow third party access, or if your system is critical, then you should strongly consider a closed-system. These are big decisions, however, that should be planned out in advance.

People say “Video may have killed the radio star, but IoT brought it back to life”

The biggest feature that makes a product not an ordinary product but an IoT product is the ability to communicate with it over the Internet. That means that your device needs to have the means to communicate. So before you begin designing your great IoT device, you should plan which technology you are going to use to communicate with it. Now what technology you use depends on a great many factors, is it battery powered, what distance does it need to talk over, how long does the battery need to last, can you access the device once it’s deployed, how much data do you need to transmit (bandwidth) and many many more. Many technologies exist to communicate with your devices from traditional methods such as Wi-Fi, Ethernet and Bluetooth, to more modern technologies such as Bluetooth low-energy, Zigbee, 6LowPan, Thread, LowRa or many more. Beyond just the physical requirements of the product that will ultimately drive you to select your communication technology, something else to consider is the longevity of the technology. You need to ensure that the technology you select will exist for the length of the products service life. So if you pick a new technology for communicating with your device then you need to make sure that if that technology ceased to exist would you still be able to operate your system? Do you need a backup communication method? Is there a standard technology that you could use (Wi-Fi / Bluetooth)? Take these things into consideration.

For us to share, these are just a few considerations for you as a product developer to take and to ask before you start designing and developing your killer product for the IoT World. Remember a rule of thumb for a product developer that is easy to read, but hard to do …


“Always remember the Six P’s : Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Products”