Readying Today’s Products for Tomorrow’s Consumers
Smarter. Faster. Cooler. Greener. Consumers have continuously raised the bar when it comes to what they expect from their consumer electronics.
Now, expectations and desires are escalating faster than ever before. Purchasers want devices that not only make their lives easier and more enjoyable, but that work together, that connect them to their friends and peers, and that satisfy their desire to be good global citizens. All while being protected by impenetrable security.
To reach and better our consumers’ expectations, CE manufacturers need to embrace three emerging areas of technological innovation; Internet of Things, application compatibility, and endpoint security. These will define the future of our industry and will govern which devices consumers want.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has only just begun to reveal its promise: Gartner forecasts that 20.4 billion devices will be in use in the next three years. As the technology matures, the key to building a strong IoT device will be starting with the customer experience and thinking beyond the device. The connectedness and intelligence of IoT transforms products into services; a coffee machine into personal barista. It also enables business to monitor customer’s usage and behaviors, allowing suppliers to predict resupplies and maintenance.
Consider a printer that detects when its ink is running low. With IoT functionality, it can preemptively place an order for replacement cartridges and send them to the consumer along with a postage paid recycling mailer to return the empties. The power of embedded intelligence doesn’t stop there. Manufacturers should employ this sophisticated usage data to inform the manufacturing of newer models and tailor marketing programs for individual use cases.
Keep in mind, too, that consumers are looking for higher quality experiences, so it’s critical that IoT be simple. IoT functionality that complicates usability or that requires an elaborate set-up will be quickly discarded. Ideally, IoT functionality should seem like an organic extension of a product’s purpose.
Increasingly connected consumers also demand seamless application compatibility. Collaborative and interoperable apps can unlock new realms of functionality and customization. The health technology space has produced some fascinating ideas in this vein. Rather than a wristband that counts steps, consumers seek wearables that can host a range of apps – such as virtual fitness instructors and food logs – which can share information and provide a more holistic and personalized experience. Furthermore, they want this functionality to bridge different devices. In the health tech example, we can think of home assistants reminding users to take certain medications or hydrate, based on data from their user’s wearable.
This kind of joined-up thinking needs to be applied across the consumer electronics space. The key question is, how can we make devices that anticipate and exceed consumer needs and wants? The answer is to create platforms, rather than insular and self-contained products. Platforms that can work with other technologies and applications, without diluting the core proposition delivered by the manufacturer.
All the greatest functionality, connectedness and compatibility won’t matter if the device isn’t secure. The connectedness of our world has made many devices - TVs, cameras, lamps, smart phones, even printers - vulnerable to a growing list of cyber threats. White hat hacker Michael “Mafiaboy” Calce says, “Printers are the largest group of devices in an office setting. . . Hackers can pull all of the jobs from the printer’s memory or they can do many other things to run exploits like use some of the ports of the printer to gain access to the entire network.”
Most printer vendors do a good job today securing the users document through features like pull printing via entering a personal code when walking up to the printer before the page prints out in a shared environment. Or they secure the data stored in a printer via encrypting printer hard drives. Enterprises must think of printers as any other office device, and secure them accordingly – as an IoT device the same way a user or IT manager would expect security around a PC’s BIOS and potentially malicious firmware upgrades.
End-point security needs to be central to the design discussion and manufacturing process of new devices, a responsibility that must be met with effort, ingenuity and elegance.
Consumers’ desire for the next-cool-thing in consumer electronics is driving ever-accelerating and shifting change. Successfully anticipating those evolving desires means listening to what customers want and watching how they interact with the technology they already have. Then, manufacturers can marry those insights to key trends to design and build the next generation of rock-their-world devices.