Should the “I” in IoT stand for Insights?

By Greg Kahn

Stacey Higginbotham, a reporter for Fortune, went on a rant last year about the smart home industry. In Stacey’s words,

the companies building products for the smart home show a shocking lack of respect for the consumer they hope to buy into the idea.

Stacey offers that smart products are expensive, complicated to install, and don’t work together.

That got me thinking: how can companies better understand consumers? Focus groups, ethnographies, social media, syndicated research, and personal observation are all ways to tap into the customer’s psyche. Each method has its benefits and drawbacks. What is clear to me is that the IoT industry needs more consumer insights.

Yes, we’ve all seen the lofty projections by many firms estimating that IoT will become a multi-trillion dollar market by 2020. But what will it take for consumers to buy in? What will it take for connected devices to move from frustrating gadgets to – as Ohad Zeira of Verizon says – “automagical experiences“?

As a starting point, the IoT industry needs to better understand the individuals who will potentially buy into this ecosystem. Urban/rural, black/white/yellow, male/female, Christian/Jewish/Muslim/Hindu, European/American/Asian/African, sports fanatic/book worm, foodie or health-nut. How can we humanize technology? What devices and services will make their lives easier, and which will make their experiences better?

A year ago, the Internet of Things Consortium commissioned a study to better understand consumers’ expectations of IoT providers. Among the top things consumers wanted to see in a connected home ecosystem was voice activation on connected devices (see chart).

It’s no wonder that Amazon’s Echo has had such rapid adoption in the United States – it fulfills that promise. Yet, I still can’t turn on my television, shower, or oven using voice control.

So here’s a call to action for the IoT industry: before we develop another smart watch, thermostat, connected dashboard, or parking meter, let’s invest some money to better understand the people that will interact with these devices. With the right insights, we just might deliver automagical experiences after all.

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