IoT - Connected Appliances
Continuing on from our introduction to the Internet of Things, we wanted to put a focus on home appliances. More and more appliances are making the transition into smarter technology, and analysts at Gartner Inc. believe that connected appliances will be in nearly every home by the year 2020. While this brings us great opportunities as product designers, and can benefit consumers immensely, this growing market will also introduce it’s own problems, both for designers and their customers.
Why should we Get Connected?
Connected appliances are simply appliances that are connected to the internet, and are able to communicate with and be communicated with by other devices, as well as with users. These appliances also frequently have ‘smart’ features, allowing them to adapt to user habits, function independently, and adapt to changes.
This allows the biggest advantage of connected appliances – they save time. A connected dishwasher can be operated remotely, if you forget to switch it on before leaving. A connected fridge can order food when it knows things are running low. Users can be notified when something goes wrong, and the product can identify what the issue is, allowing for a streamlined repair process. The interconnectivity of IoT allows boundless opportunities for us as product designers to make the consumers life easier.
The Energy Concern
A common concern with smart and connected appliances is energy. High usage appliances getting on board computers and being connected to the internet is surely going to use more power. Thankfully, there are also possibilities for IoT products to use their connectivity features to reduce energy use. By learning user habits, analysing peak times and changing prices, or even knowing when clean energy is most available, connected appliances have the potential to optimise their energy consumption, or at least communicate to their users how to do so.
While Australia is not among them (yet!), many countries are moving towards a sustainable energy goal. Some frontrunners include Denmark, with a plan outlined to get them to 100% sustainable energy by 2050, and Germany, who are already at 30% renewable energy, a higher percentage than they get from brown coal. As we move towards more sustainable energy sources, we will be more ethically able use more power, and offset the costs of these high usage appliances.
Connected, but separate
As these products launch, we’re beginning to see new issues arising. Front-runner, Nest has launched their proprietary network with several of their own products, including a thermostat that learns your routine, adjusts with temperature and season changes, and allows remote access from smart phones. It also has built in features that show the user how to optimise their energy usage. It can also communicate with other Nest network products, and this is wherein the problems start to become clear.
Nest is an open network, allowing developers to put their products on Nest. They hope this will be appealing, and Nest will become a standard network, in every home. So does Apple, with Apple Home, and Google, the Bluetooth Mesh Network, and Z-Wave. Once all these competing networks are on the market, consumers are going to need to pay attention to which products work with each other. There will be a great demand for products to be free from ties to a particular network, so that they can be used with any other connected appliance.
Obviously, this will not always be possible. Some network owners will likely not allow their developers to make their products open to other networks. As product designers, we will need to be considering these things when looking into bringing our products to the IoT.
Balancing the requirements of companies and the desire of the consumer is not new to the industry, but only time will tell what specific problems will arise as all these networks roll out.
We can only continue to observe the trends in this emerging market, and do our best to make our new designs fit what people want from their connected appliances. This year will surely be big, as more networks are to be announced and detailed, and we see more commercial IoT products being launched.