The Web Is Getting Physical and We Love It.
The Internet of Things designers are working hard to reshape the way we interact with not only the online world, but with the physical one we live in. Innovative digital designers have allowed us to do the impossible: turn our stoves off with our tablet, tell our dog he’s a “good boy” – from the office, or turn up the home thermostat while downing a nice pint at a local pub. Multi-tasking at its best. In fact, this is more than the Internet of Things. After all, a dog is not a thing. And neither are you. This is The Physical Web.
Today You can Literally Connect Anything to the Internet. But Should You?
However, many an Internet of Things agency have begun to venture into the weird. A few companies have tried to innovate devices and upgrade experiences that perhaps are best left analogue. Which, to be honest, continues to really bother us. Yes you can make a pair of underwear Tweet. But should you? (More on this in another episode). All of us here at Makeable are extremely passionate about new technology. But when it’s on us, our desire to discoify our house is often trumped by our passion for solving real problems through user-centered design thinking. In a recent Thinkmap session our team explored this sentiment and whipped up the below visualization to help depict how the market adapts to dramatic technology innovation.
The objective of this chart is to help identify how your product’s innovation might affect your current consumers (if you have them). Write your target’s mindsets in each slice, and identify how they may view your products innovation, and your brand. The end result should help you be honest with your product and it’s potential, or maybe lack there of. For an established brand, we want to be green. A poor innovation could actually damage what you have worked so hard to create. And connecting something to the Internet simply because you can, just might be the easiest way to inflict that damage.
A less established brand however, could afford some more risk and may want to get closer to the red zone. Think of it like a Tachometer in a racecar. Shifting in high RPMS on an aggressive driving course (your market) will earn you a faster track time. But shift too high, in the red line, your going to risk damaging your engine. Too low, and you’re just not driving up to your cars potential.
What is Your Physical Web Strategy?
To truly progress in the Physical Web (“Internet of Things”) we really need a central objective. One that’s less about the thing we are innovating and more about the people we make things for. We were recently approached to help build a connected dog collar, (an interesting enough innovation in it’s own right) but what we soon realized is that the technology for the sake of having it (on your dog) was not the interesting part. What was interesting to us (and the dog owner we made it for) is what the dog collar accomplishes, and why they use it: Training. Emotional connection. Play. Health. For the Physical Web to live up to its potential, it needs to be centered around the user/owner and what they need. Not what we want them to need.
So while there are a few phenomenal connected devices out there, here are just a few weird ideas Internet of Things designers have cooked up. Are they grounded in inherent user value? You be the judge.
Toaster That Prints Today’s Weather on The Toast (We Wish This was Real)
If there’s something that meets the perfect threshold of pointless but amazing it would be this toaster. Whether you’re eating your toast with avocado, jam or eggs, it skips the app opening step of scheduling your day’s outfit and activities, which is what’s really important in an innovation.
The Foodini is a 3D food printer. Users put in their fresh ingredients, and the machine supposedly prints (aka prepares) the food into any edible, full color, design or form they’d like. Chances are the Physical Web Designers behind printable food won’t be replacing those tasty Baja Fish Tacos from our favorite Mexican restaurant or winning Michelin stars anytime soon. But the idea of an automatic food preparation machine has certainly been around a while. THINK: Star Trek Replicator, circa 1965.
These Shoes Were Made For… Tweeting?
Enter Talking Shoes. Google’s Internet of Things designers have come up with shoes that can connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth®. It encourages you to exercise with phrases like, ” this is super boring” or “I love the feeling of wind in my laces”. Having your shoes mock, cajole or shame is enough to make us want to kick these kicks to the curb. Just sayin’. Though the intention is clearly to help people get active, the idea of being monitored by a pair of sneakers does not appeal. I can barely come up with a good excuse to keep using Nike+ religiously. I’m pretty sure a snarky pair of ‘tennies isn’t going to fix that.
Dormitory Bathrooms? ‘Nuff Said.
Easily one of the strangest creations Internet of Things designers have come up with are MIT’s dorm bathrooms. The Random Hall dormitory has an online resource to let residents know which bathroom is available and when. For us, the perfect upgrade would be to alert the end-user (pun intended) exactly WHO just left the bathroom with a color-coded threat level chart. Ut oh. It was that chap on the 1st floor who only eats Hot Cheetos and stockpiles Mountain Dew? Threat Level: RED. Or the au naturale, from 6b who’s a live-food vegetarian? Threat Level: GREEN. Tough choice.
Yet, as big as the Internet may be, it’s creeping into some “unmentionable” places. Case in point…
Ahem, Coitus Electricus?
Durex Vibrating Underwear – “Fundawear”. A whole new twist on touch screens.
Of course physical web designers would try and upgrade sex or at least enhance it. In 2013 a company announced in a YouTube video, now viewed more than 7.5 million times, how an Australian couple could remotely “touch” each other. Separated from your significant other? Not a problem. Strap on Fundawear and foreplay via your iPhone. (Does size actually make a difference in this case? iPhone 6 Plus anyone?) Just touch your fingers in the app to the diagram of the body parts you want to excite remotely. The wires and sensors embedded in the underwear “touch” the corresponding body parts.
We live in an Internet saturated culture constantly shifting mores with each new digital innovation. Just consider the fact that the majority (69%) of marketers say that dynamic content is vital for online marketing success; about 50% of mobile phone users use their devices as their primary way to get online; and that there’s more than 116,000 web design services in the United States.
The next step in you product’s life cycle may very likely be to “connect” it. Just be sure to connect with your user, first.