For anything to succeed on the Internet of Things, it has to be better than the alternative.
For 20 years, digital teams have tried to create great user experiences where there were few to no comparable experiences in the physical world. But now the Internet of Things promises to bring digital experiences to the physical world, where users often have access to longstanding products that work just fine.
This means that success or failure on the Internet of Things will come down to one question: Is it better than what users already have?
For example, let’s compare these two wristwatches:
On the left is my trusty Casio G-Shock – an offline, 1980s-era watch. On the right is, of course, the Apple Watch.
• The G-Shock has an easy user interface, battery life of 10 years, zero security vulnerabilities, and a price under fifty dollars.
• As for the Apple Watch, remember the key question: Is it better than what users already have? Apart from any other considerations, will people buy a watch for hundreds or thousands of dollars when it has a battery life of a few days? And which requires a (perfectly fully featured) smartphone to be kept nearby? Many will, of course, but it’s hard to make the case for the wider market that Apple has relied on.
Some argue that the Apple Watch is mainly a fashion statement (and, granted, my Casio isn’t – believe me, I’ve heard). There are, after all, luxury-brand watches that cost even more. But what happens in two years, when the technology in this smartwatch is out of date? Moore’s Law never applied to luxury goods until now.
The best argument in favor of the Apple Watch is that it isn’t yet better than the alternative, but it will be in the future. You have to start somewhere, and Apple is starting with customers who can afford to pay the price for “first on the block” bragging rights. It reminds me of early cell phones, those ridiculous bricks carried around for show in the 1980s. They quickly went out of date and were replaced with much more useful, and less expensive, devices in the 1990s.
Regardless of the timing, the user experience is the crucial ingredient to success for any Internet of Things product. And I don’t mean tactical UX stuff like where to put the Preferences link (though I suppose that is important in its own place). Rather, it’s the overall user experience that matters: what do people already use in the physical world? Do people, in fact, need a “smart” device, if something offline is less expensive, more durable, and equally functional? What do people actually want, and what will actually improve their lives?
The winners in the Internet of Things will be those teams that really think about the customer.
And that’s largely the point we’ll explore at my Gel 2015 conference next month (Thur-Fri, Apr 23-24 in New York). The teams that include customers in their thinking, the teams that invest in the overall user experience, are poised to succeed in the next digital era. Be there.