Uncharted Waters

Jul 6 2018   3:10PM GMT

The Internet of Things Meets Usability

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

Internet of Things

Usability and the Internet of ThingsPrior to the release of the Nest Thermostat in 2011, the Internet of Things was mostly hype. Refrigerators that texted you when milk spoiled were not really possible. Lawnmowers that texted you they had not been used in awhile were less useful than, say, looking at the grass.

Today, internet of things devices are real, and valuable.

The only problem is getting them to work.

We’ve seen this before

In the 1980’s a new device entered the home: The Video Cassette Recorder, or VCR. The original plan with the VCR was to use the interface to plan to record television shows when the owner was out, to replay later. This would make the television on-demand, instead of forcing the owner to stay home on, say, Thursday nights during NBC’s Must See TV.

Usability before Internet of ThingsThe problem was no one could figure out how to set the time to record. They couldn’t figure out how to set the time at all, leading to something called the blinking twelve problem. The real value from the VCR turned out to be renting and buying movies, which gave rise to an entire industry, including blockbuster video and its rivals.

Then, two weeks ago, for the first time, I installed a home based security system that ran off the Internet of Things.

Internet of Things: Promise vs. reality

The idea was that I would have a wireless security system. The security guy would come in, install a few cameras and a new iOt door lock. The cameras would be motion activated and connect to my phone. If someone was at my door, I would get a notice on my phone. Magically delicious, right?


The first problem was that the devices could not connect to my wifi. They need a base station, a ‘hub’ that coordinates all the devices. That hub did not have the range to get to my devices, so we needed to bring it over about half-way through the house.

With wires.

That’s right, I had two sets of ethernet cables snaking through my house. Eventually, an IT friend drilled a hole and we ran the lines through the basement, installing the network gear in the wall of a closet.

Okay, hub set-up. Now we need to connect devices and phones.

Getting serious about Internet of Things Usability

Now I’d have to use it.

Download the app, create the account, press the connect button on each device, press the connect button on the phone. Sounds easy, right?

Somehow that process took about two hours. It was painful. The hub took about twelve minutes to ‘sync’ to the internet, so we kept resetting and starting over. Eventually we go to do something else, for a an hour, and come back, and the hub is finished syncing.

I’ll save you the details from installing the app and syncing, but it wasn’t easy. No big deal, as I only need to do it if I install a new phone.

So every year or so.

Good, bad, and ugly usability

When people come to the front door, I do get a notice, and I can click and watch a video quickly.

If the hub is disconnected, say the house loses power in a storm, then I do get a notice that the hub is disconnected. Likewise if someone smashed a camera from behind, I expect I’d get a notice the device is not broadcasting.

Sometimes, the motion that is detected is the neighbor’s son, mowing the lawn. The other day it was a stray dog at 3:00AM.

Overall: Great potential here. The value isn’t realized yet. It’s too hard to set up with too many problems.

Which is fantastic.

That was exactly the state of the personal computer when Apple created the Apple II. Or the state of the MP3 Player when Apple created the iPod. Or the mobile phone when …

The sounds like opportunity.

For a market that was $157 Billion back in 2016, that might be a lot of opportunity, indeed.

Keep it here for more updates.

2  Comments on this Post

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  • dustyj
    I'm curious what security system you went with, since I'm currently working in that space. I see the customer feedback we get, along with some real horror stories like the following. In short, Kamran's house is so secure...even he can't get in.

    10 pointsBadges:
  • Matt Heusser
    Dusty! Great to hear from you! The tool is called Arlo tho I have a separate keyless entry system, I can email you some details.
    4,935 pointsBadges:

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