The Future of the Internet of Things - Scott Jenson's Takeaways for UXers

Rami Tabbah - June 1st, 2014

The Internet of Things is now a reality: blue tooth car kits, home automation, home network cameras, smart doorbells, Google Glass, and more is on its way. Some government are realizing its potential. David Cameron announced in March that the UK government will increase the budget for technology firms to work on 'internet of things' devices.

On May 1st, 2014, I attended the Closing Keynote of CHI 2014 by Scott Jenson, Product Strategist at Google. He spoke about the conditions that will allow the User Experience of the Internet of things to succeed and made the case for a free and open service that allows every device to talk to every other device

Jenson started by explaining how products get perfected till maturity, then comes a revolution, a shift, that changes the landscape. For companies to survive these shifts, they need to be risk takers.
such as smart devices and home automation,
Inspired by his slides, I allowed myself to create a couple of figures showing the evolution and shifts cars and phones went through:

Evolution of CarsEvolution of Phones

The Internet of things is a new shift we need to be ready for. Jenson explained what how designers need to focus on just in time interaction and device discovery to unlock the potential of the Internet of things:
  • The Internet of things, should not be a set of if then else rules, it is human down, not technology up. It looks easy but is a hard problem, especially in home automation given the large number of scenarios of use and their dependency on different contexts.
  • If Moore's law is correct, we should expect to see a very large number of smart devices in the future. At that time, it will be applications that will be holding us back from designing proper user experience because they are not available right away like web pages; they need to be downloaded and they do not scale.
  • When devices escape out in the public space, there will be a range of devices and each will have something to tell us in a just in time interaction model, or interactivity on demand. Users will want to use a device then loose it, not keep it for ever. 
  • We need to think of the smartness in 3 layers: Coordination, Control and Discovery. Discovery is the one we need to think more about. What if everything has a URL...
  • Mobile applications must die. Thinking in terms of applications pulls us back. A bus stop application where users have to open the application and turn on GPS for the application to know where they are, versus the bus stop having a URL that already knows where it is.
  • By loosing applications, we can start to think small about very specific information and functionality. It is a new way of unlocking information and interactivity. This will unlock discovery.
Jenson presented the outlines of the project he is currently working on at Goggle: a system of discovery where small devices can broadcast their URL to anybody. 
  • In this scenario, when entering a space, the user can Google that space and surrounding devices can respond using a proximity DNS. The web is pushed into the physical space. 
  • The steps are: Discovery, Ranking, Interacting.
  • This physical web will bridge the web and physical devices. Everything will have a URL/a web page. It will be instant interaction: walk up and use. There will be no applications to install, manage and delete.
  • Devices will broadcast information and smart devices will listen. This will create a just in time ecosystem.
  • For this system to succeed, it needs to be implemented by a community, not a single company. It is like building roads for trucks.
Finally, Jenson left UXers with 3 takeaways:
  • The shape of innovation, the sociology of design and how it affects us.
  • Applications pull us back.
  • We need the physical web and we need to build it as a community in an open way.