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IoT silliness: ‘Headless’ devices without a UI

Galen Gruman | Jan. 19, 2015
Many Internet of things devices can be controlled via smartphone only. What could possibly go wrong?

With others, you can create guest access accounts, which may make sense in tech hubs but not in the world where most people live. It's unnecessarily complicated and imposes technology requirements on users (download an app, for starters), many of whom deal with physical items and barely use email, much less apps. They're not stupid; they're oriented to physical items, which is why they tend to work on physical items.

Smartphones are a great nexus for controlling IoT devices -- better than the proprietary hubsso many are pushing -- but they should not be the sole option.

Still, I've seen the same misplaced "everyone uses a smartphone and can set up guest accounts" fallacy in other IoT domains, such as home alarm systems and door locks. What may be true in San Francisco, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Cupertino isn't true elsewhere -- and it's true in only rarefied circles in those Silicon Valley centers.

The good news is that some companies get it. Two smart water sprinkler controllers on the market offer both a local user interface for better traditional control and a modern app and Web remote control, in addition to the weather-based smart adjustments: Green Electronics' RainMachineand Skydrop's Skydrop Controller. Traditional provider Rain Bird also has one, but its local interface is the same unusable set of traditional VCR-like controls that should be put out of their misery.

In the smart lock domain, Schlage has previewed the Sense smart lock that can open automatically when a recognized device comes within range, as well as be controlled remotely -- yet it still works with a regular key. Plus, you can program it with PIN codes, so you can share virtual keys with the knowledge that the PIN code expires. The Schlage Sense combines traditional lock notion (physical key) and new lock notions (Bluetooth proximity triggers, disposable PINs, and remote control) in a way that works across multiple contexts, giving each their due without taking away from the others.

Recent updates to the Nest thermostat -- which always had a local interface on the device, in addition to its app -- have improved the local interface, adding information like weather to the screen. The folks at Nest realized that a local interface can add more value than simply providing continuity with the familiar approaches of the physical world. In other words, they're innovating both the old and the new at the same time.

The lesson is simple: Don't throw away the world as it is when you innovate; instead, leverage and enhance it. Old isn't bad; it's actually the result of previous innovation and experience, much of which remains valid even in the face of new breakthroughs.

IoT developers should take these lessons to heart now, before they go down the VCR route.

Source: InfoWorld


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