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  • IoT Product Leaders: Your Smart Home Devices Need These Four Critical Features

So, you’re developing a smart home device. 

Right now, that means you’re at the very tip of a wave of change. 

If the last couple of years showed consumers anything, it’s that investing in making their homes more comfortable, more sustainable, and safer is always worthwhile. 

And — fortunately for you — that doesn’t just mean giving the walls a lick of paint. Consumers are investing in smart home devices more than ever, with the global market predicted to grow to $135.3 billion by 2025. 

But the more customers bring IoT into their homes, the better idea they have of what exactly they want from their smart home devices. Smart thermostats and fridges used to blow customers away just by existing; nowadays they need to do a little more to impress the average customer looking for a connected device. 

The IoT product leaders that understand what customers are looking for — and which features will push a customer through to purchase — will be able to create products that win market share now, and continue to retain customers well into the future. 

Here are four non-negotiable features that customers want to see in every IoT product. 

1. Seamless integration 

Smart home devices are a bit like tattoos: Once a customer has one, it’s incredibly tempting to invest in more. 

Which means you need to think about how your device will integrate with every other device in your customer’s home — whether or not it’s one that you built. 

When your customers dream of the perfect smart house, they think about everything working effortlessly. With the click of a few buttons, they can turn on the lights, crank up the heat, unlock the door and sail through to their kitchen to whip up a meal from their fully stocked smart fridge.

What they don’t dream of is logging into three different apps just to warm up the house and make it bright enough to see what they’re doing. 

Customers want integration on two fronts: 

  • Interface integration – All of their IoT devices are accessible through one app. 
  • Operational integration – Linked devices talk to each other, making little adjustments to make life easier. Think of a smart fridge that alerts your Google Home device when you’re out of milk. 

And these kinds of integrations — especially interface integration — are becoming increasingly essential. 

Three in 10 owners of smart home devices surveyed in a GWI report said they want their devices to integrate with one another. It’s clear that integration is now an expectation, not a luxury.

So, what can you do as an IoT product leader? 

First of all, think about how your IoT products will fit into the home as a whole. Where are consumers most likely to use the data that your devices collect? Which other devices are they likely to use as part of the same process? 

Once you know this, you can work with other IoT providers to a) make sure it’s easy to integrate your devices with one another and b) explore chances to cross-market your devices. 

If you’re a smart fridge brand like the one in the example above, being able to easily integrate with all the major AI assistants could provide a real boost in both your marketing and your ability to deliver value to your customers. 

The second, and possibly most important thing, is to make sure your products integrate with a smart home hub. That way, customers can easily control your devices from one central interface, instead of jumping around between multiple apps just to keep their smart home running. 

2. Simple, accessible interfaces

As smart home devices become more commonplace, customers are starting to expect the same kind of functionality from their connected devices that they get from, say, their mobile phone or their TV. They want devices that they can start using straight away, without combing through instruction manuals or fiddling with tricky integration. 

In practice, that means your devices need features that make the user experience as smooth and as easy as the UX of any other consumer device. Think about (among other things): 

  • Interface design – How easy is it for the average consumer to understand and interpret the data your devices are gathering? 
  • Interface familiarity – Do your devices operate similarly to other consumer electronics? Can a customer intuitively learn how to use them?
  • Remote control – Customers don’t want to walk back and forth between multiple devices just to turn up the heat or check who rang the doorbell. Have you made it easy for customers to operate your devices from the comfort of their sofa?
  • Touchless tech – In the aftermath of the pandemic, have you thought about how you can reduce the need for customers and visitors to directly touch devices like smart doorbells or thermostats?
  • Context of use – When will customers use your devices, and how will that affect how they use them? If you’re building a smart doorbell, make it easy for customers to quickly access camera footage when it rings, before their visitor leaves. If your device is in the kitchen, give it a water-resistant screen so that customers can use it when they have wet hands, or when the air is steamy. 

Before you roll out your devices, it’s also important to conduct thorough UX testing to highlight any previously unforeseen frustrations or areas of confusion. 

Think carefully about how your connected devices will fit into your customer’s home, and try your best to anticipate any speed bumps in the user journey. If you can make your devices as intuitive as your customer’s toaster or TV remote, you’ll be able to achieve the dream scenario of any IoT brand: complete, seamless integration with your customers’ lives. 

3. Iron-clad security 

In 2018, researchers tested the security of a smart padlock.

The manufacturer said it could only be opened with the right fingerprint. 

Researchers unlocked it in just 45 minutes — and showed that anyone with a smartphone could do the same. 

And, since that highly publicized experiment, the danger that smart home devices could be infiltrated has only grown. A Which? Investigation in 2021 estimated that the average smart home could be targeted by more than 12,000 attacks in a single week. And understandably so; smart homes are an enticing prospect for hackers

An astounding number of IoT devices installed in homes are unsecured, making them an easy target. They’re also ripe for exploitation. Infiltrating a smart home through one IoT device — even something as innocuous as a smart fridge — could give hackers access to everything from door locks to security cameras, not to mention enormous amounts of personal data. 

And consumers are aware of this danger. In a recent survey, 35% of non-adopters of IoT said that they wouldn’t buy a smart home device due to concerns that it could be hacked. 

Which means that, as an IoT product leader, making security a core feature of your smart home devices is non-negotiable. 

To win customer trust, you need endpoint protection built into your connected devices. The best way to achieve this is by working with an expert cyber security partner who can provide you with both expert support and the ability to proactively respond to security threats. The right partner can deploy enhanced security measures with just one firmware update — which means you’ll be able to secure devices faster and upgrade the security of any device, whether it’s in production or out in your customers’ homes. 

When you’re looking for a security solution for your connected devices, make sure that you find one that’s: 

  • An embedded endpoint IoT security agent which is lightweight but powerful — You want your security to have enough processing power to identify, analyze and react to threats, without annoying consumers by slowing down your devices. 
  • Built for IoT — Look for a partner that understands the specific challenges of securing IoT devices, rather than general cyber security experts.
  • Able to provide security at any stage — With the right partner, you’ll be able to roll out new security measures with just a simple firmware update, so you can protect devices that are already deployed, as well as ones that are currently in development. 
  • Adaptable — Smart homes are a tempting target for hackers, so they’re continually looking for new and more innovative ways to break through defenses. Look for a security agent that can adapt to new threats as they arise. 
  • Comprehensive — To convince concerned consumers, your connected devices need to be protected against everything from malware to denial-of-service attacks and identity misuse. 

Enhanced security isn’t just a baseline requirement; when approached in the right way, it can be a marketing opportunity too. Take Canadian Tire; the retailer has built security — enabled by Firedome technology — into the heart of its Noma iQ devices, even going as far as to trademark its DataGuard cyber security tech. 

The DataGuard security label is displayed on the box of every device that it sells, both reassuring customers and providing Canadian Tire with a powerful differentiation point in a competitive market. 

A box of Noma iQ Smart WiFi LED Bulbs. The DataGuard symbol at the top right of the packaging is a powerful differentiator leveraging superior security for Canadian Tire.

4. Built-in sustainability 

For lots of customers, connected devices are a chance to reduce their own impact on the environment. Smart lighting and smart meters don’t just cut back on the bills, after all — customers see them as a chance to cut back on the amount of energy they consume, too. 

But customers don’t want to shoulder the burden of sustainability alone; they’re increasingly looking for IoT brands to reduce their own environmental impact. 

Compared to, say, the automotive industry or the fossil fuel sector, it’s easy to overlook the role of connected devices in climate change. But, in reality, digital technology is responsible for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions. And many components of IoT devices are extremely difficult to reuse or recycle. 

As consumers become more aware of issues like these, sustainability is beginning to influence more and more of their purchase decisions. In fact, one in four customers surveyed by GWI said that they check for information on the sustainability of personal electronics before buying them.

If you want your IoT devices to attract — or continue attracting — eco-conscious customers, you’ll need to show them that you’ve made sustainability a priority. The good news is that there’s more than one way to achieve this: 

  • Look into using more recycled components in your IoT devices. Follow Google’s lead: In 2020, the company reached its goal of having all Made by Google devices made from recycled materials two years ahead of schedule. 
  • Explore ways to recycle your device components after use — like Apple, whose customers currently recycle more devices than customers of any other electronics brand. 
  • Invest in carbon offsets to counterbalance the emissions created by any cloud computing or data transfer associated with your devices. 

Do your connected devices have what it takes?

Nowadays, customers have a pretty good idea of what they want from the connected devices they welcome into their homes. 

And, as we’ve seen, some features that were once optional are now non-negotiable. If you want to truly stand out in a competitive market, you’ll need to: 

  • Provide seamless integration between your devices and the rest of the customer’s smart home
  • Simple user friendly interfaces (UI&UX)
  • Give the customer iron-clad protection from hackers
  • Make sustainability a priority when you’re building and running your devices.

Give customers the protection, integration, and sustainability they’re looking for, and you’ll put yourself way ahead of many other IoT product leaders on the market.

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