Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Navigating The Internet of Things

Having worked a number of years with connected devices, I thought I'd like to briefly share some observations and pitfalls that folks just arriving to the field should heed.

The network isn't always there

Many folks arriving on the scene of connected devices come from a background where their applications ran in the datacenter and connectivity was a user's problem. That is, if someone tries to use your site, can't, then tries google and it doesn't work...they assume the problem is on THIER end. While this isn't universal, it's much more likely than someone who tries to turn off the lights in their house or start their car and it doesn't work. While wireless providers do a very good job of connecting when devices are reachable, there are so many variables that impact coverage for a wireless device, it is almost impossible in most cases for a user to make a determination what is casing their "thing" to not work. This is especially aggravated when the device is mobile...that is, a Nest connected via WIFI is generally "working" once it initially establishes a wireless connection but a connected vehicle moving at highway speeds will very often lose connectivity for periods of time (never mind parking in "dead" zones like underground parking garages or dead zones in rural areas). While a consumer device normally has an indicator of signal strength, many vehicle manufacturer still don't provide for this functionality.

Manage battery life

Designing a device to be "always on" with a high speed data connection is a recipe for designing a device that isn't really useful. Having just purchased a Samsung Gear S, the need to charge every day is a bit of a drag. Yes I could disable all connectivity and stretch to battery life to days, but then...it's just a watch. Don't get me wrong, I love the connectedness of my gear, but it's been sitting dead on my desk for a week now because I keep forgetting to charge it. Power management is a "big deal", don't drain your user's battery necessarily and give them options to help manage the tradeoffs between "battery life" and "connectivity". For folks used to writing desktop and server applications, the idea of managing power is a completely new thing that embedded folks might understand...but surrendering to embedded notion of conserving every last milliamp hour at the expense of usability is not going to cut it.

Open wins

Too many folks in the IOT space are hoping to win market by using proprietary APIs and locking them down to keep competition at bay, this is a short sighted position. Apple realized this early on and Google forced the issue by creating an open platform. While Google itself may not directly be reaping the benefits of proprietary licensing schemes, they have succeeded in fragmenting the market and creating new opportunities for revenue that sticking with a proprietary network and stack would never allow (remember RIM?).

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