Navigating the IoT Landscape: When to Embrace Connectivity and When to Keep It Simple

Product Development

In a tech-savvy world, not every product needs IoT and an app. Sometimes, simplicity is key, and adding unnecessary complexity can alienate users. To determine whether IoT is warranted, consider the value of the data, the cost, and the prevalence of app fatigue among consumers. When it’s essential, modern development tools make IoT integration more accessible than ever before.

The world is connected by wireless and wired networks and there is no going back. Once smartphones came onto the scene, the world has been run by apps. From fitness, to dating, to driving, IoT devices and apps run our world. I love IoT and the power it gives us. It is great technology that allows us to harness the power of data and leverage it to do good in the world. However, like garlic and soy sauce, too much of a good thing can spoil the pot. There are plenty of times when adding IoT capability or an app to a physical product is overkill. Here are 4 times when you can skip IoT or the app and what to do if you cannot.


When Its Purely Physical


This may seem obvious, but when a product is not already electrified it is usually a good idea to skip the app. This falls under the KISS principle, Keep It Simple St… you know the rest. If the device is completely free of electronics and is doing its job well, there is no need to complicate it with an app or adding Bluetooth. It will take time, cost money, and risk alienating users. For example, if a product is upfitted with Bluetooth, there may be some interesting upside and data that can be gathered. However, if the implementation or app are not done well it can lead to frustration and ill feelings by users. Leave well enough alone.

Surely there is some interesting data to be gleaned from adding IoT to this drill, but is it needed?


When the data doesn’t matter


A great reason to add IoT capabilities and sensors is to capture data. We have seen the value of data in the market and in our lives evolve in the last few decades, and collecting data is often more valuable than the device harvesting it. However, not all data is interesting, meaningful, or valuable. We see this acutely in the way our bodies process data from our senses. We have peripheral vision which purposely obscures data from our eyes, and our brain is constantly filtering out data and events that are not remarkable for the job of survival. Going on a walk through the woods, we will not remember every leaf on the tree, but will certainly remember where we saw the snake cross the path. So too must we be discerning about our need to capture data. On some devices, the data is just not useful and not worth capturing. Understanding what you are going to do with the data, who the audience or customer for the data is, and the reason it is being collected will guide you as to if you should add IoT capabilities or not.

I collect a lot of data from my greenhouse with a cellular IoT chip. It is fun to look at,  but not all of it is useful.


When it is too expensive to deploy


Adding IoT capability and an app is expensive. It adds to the cost of goods of the product to add the circuitry for the sensors. It costs development time and money to create the firmware (software the runs on the circuit), and it takes resources to collect and store the data for you and your customers. Therefore, there needs to be a meaningful business case to bother collecting data or hosting the app or else there is a risk that the costs will drown out all of your profits once the product is in the market. If you have a product where consumers are not willing to pay the extra cost for the value or novelty of the data, then it is best to not bother with IoT or an app. 


The only way to tell if the data you plan to collect is valuable is by doing your due diligence on the real costs and asking your customers if they will pay for it. Understand how much extra it will cost to have an app or IoT in your device. It can be difficult to pin down the cost as it will vary with scale, but it may cost $2-5 per month per device to keep a WiFi or cellular device connected. It will be much less for a strictly Bluetooth device as the data is likely being transferred by a phone to the cloud. A developer can help map out the real costs, but in either case, if the business model does not support the added development costs and ongoing app and cloud service fees, it is best to skip the IoT.


App Fatigue


In our digitized world, smartphone users and consumers are experiencoing app fatigue and digital burnout. It seems like every product has an app associated with it as a matter of course. You have to download it, open it, register an account with a password you are sure to forget as soon as you type it in. It makes the experience heavy and often adds nothing to the joy of using the product. If your product idea does not need an app, do consumers a favor and give us some precious minutes of our life back and leave out the app. It will allow you to focus on the real value of what you are bringing to the market without getting caught by the app trap.

Just one page of apps on my phone that I barely use. Please don’t make me do more.


But Your Product Needs IoT


So you ran the gauntlet of when not to do IoT and your device really needs connectivity and an app to do its job in the world. That is great news. It can be a difficult job to pull it all together, but fortunately, it has never been an easier time to develop connected devices and apps. There is great hardware and development boards out there with sample code that make it really easy to get prototypes connected to the web. One of my favorites is the Particle system that has devices in the Feather format in both cellular and WiFi flavors that use Arduino style code and libraries that are really easy to get going. There are platforms like Blynk and Panda Suite that make it easy to make apps and can also connect to hardware and can be used to scale. Of course there is always the option to do a full custom deployment. In this case, it helps to have a team of expert developers like we have at Enventys Partners that can help add IoT capability with the right technology stack to fit your budget to get your device in the market quickly.

This model greenhouse has IoT capabilities to transmit conditions and faults to a farmer to keep crops healthy. This is a good example of the potential value of IoT enabled devices.

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