When we think about advancements in hardware we most often focus on the technologies themselves. The initial hype built around a product leads to inflated expectations, and an overemphasis on its technological capabilities. The product’s greater purpose and application is often only realized after the hype does down, and people understand its best application. This pattern is no different for Internet of Things technology. Beyond their surface-level capabilities, IoT technologies can have far reaching effects on the people who actually use them.
Creating designs around people presents a different approach to technology. In the past, we have tended to adapt ourselves to technology. Think about the screen — we have grown so used to it, yet the screen itself does not fit naturally into our lives. Artificial light from our phones and computers interferes with our body’s natural rhythms, which can have serious impacts on our health. Constant hunching over computer screens and looking down at smartphones puts unnecessary strain on our neck, back, and shoulders. Screens are ubiquitous, yet we must compromise our health and lifestyle for them. While computers and smartphones have provided us with a fast, connected, world, we have adapted to them in ways that harm our health.
Given this reality, one of the most interesting potentials of the Internet of Things is to take a step back, and create technologies that fit easily into our lives. Wearables, like Fitbit and Apple Watch, apply IoT technology to everyday objects in a way that increases convenience and health awareness. They replace a commonly worn accessory, the watch, with technology that can do more than just tell time.
Wearables can serve other purposes as well, and harness technological capability never before imagined. Take June by Netatmo — it is a wearable bracelet that measures your skin’s exposure to the sun throughout the day, and records this data in a smartphone app. The app then provides recommendations for how long you should spend in the sun based on the live data and your personal information. Sun damage has harmful effects on our skins, and the June bracelet raises our awareness of our UV exposure in real-time. The June wearable shows one example of how IoT technology can help to enhance our well-being in a simple, non-invasive way, that has huge implications over time.
Beyond wearables, standalone IoT technology can help heighten our connection to our environment. Sense, by Hello, is a small sphere of sensors that tracks activity in the bedroom to help you get a restful night’s sleep. This sphere sits on the nightstand, and easily blends into the bedroom. It glows green when the bedroom is in the optimal condition for sleep. Sensors placed under the pillow track your sleep and send the data to an app on your phone. In the morning, you can review your night’s sleep, and see any changes in your sleep patterns. Sense is especially useful today, when constant exposure to artificial light interferes with our body’s natural circadian rhythm. Sense’s ability to self-monitor shows how IoT technology can enhance our lives by providing us with information we otherwise would not have access to.
On an individual level, wearables are a great way to merge technology with everyday objects, in a non-invasive way. They help improve our interaction with our environment, and connect us to valuable information. However, June, Sense, and Fitbit all rely on smartphone apps as part of their functionality. The IoT object can collect data, but needs the smartphone to visualize and analyze the information. The two work together well, but without the phone, the wearable device looses its value. In the coming years, designers should focus on developing IoT technology that can operate independently of the smartphone. To have the entire service contained in one technology will streamline interaction with the product, making it more powerful and useful to the owner, and will come to define personal connectivity.