The Constantly-Improving Connected Device

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Once a home product is “smart,” nothing stops you from making it even smarter.

There is an immediate, out-of-the-box appeal to the new breed of smart, connected home devices made possible courtesy of the Web, smartphones and the easy connectivity solutions provided by companies like Arrayent.

We’ve been writing about them for a while: A garage door app that let’s you make sure you’ve shut the door, even if you’re far away from home. Remote thermostats you can use to pre-heat the house if you are coming home from a weekend vacation earlier than you had originally planned. Home irrigation systems that let you make remote, on-the-fly adjustments back home when the weather gets too hot or too cold while you’re away.

Products like these have an obvious value proposition that makes people buy them in the first place. And if the product is intelligently designed, customers will start using them right away for their intended purpose.

But we at Arrayent are noticing a new trend as we work with our customers: The same technologies that make a connected device possible in the first place ALSO allow a manufacturer to add features and functionality to it over time. Depending on the business plan of the customer, these upgrades can be either free, or offered for a price.

Take, for example, a light switch that turns itself off if there’s no activity in the room for 10 or 20 minutes. These light switches are a godsend for parents with kids who always forget to turn off the kitchen lights after making evening snacks.

In terms of hardware, a light switch likes this requires a relatively small number of building blocks: a motion sensor, a switch, and basic wireless LAN functionality for connecting everything to a smartphone via the Internet.

Once these components are in place, there are a lot of other things you can do with them. For example, rather than simply turning a single light on and off, the switch can be integrated into a home security system. Once the light switch is connected to the security system, it’s not hard for a “cloud” application to learn the pattern of lighting usage in a particular home, and then “replay” that pattern whenever the homeowners are away on vacation, lest burglars be tipped off by a house that is dark 24/7 for several days.

The possibilities are endless. With a few extra lines of code, that same light switch can be part of a system that remotely monitors an elderly parent who lives alone at home. For example, if the light switch is installed in the bathroom, and that bathroom light doesn’t turn on at least once in a 12-hour period, then that’s a signal that something may be wrong. When this happens, the light can easily be set up to trigger emails, text messages, or automated phone calls to friends and relatives. For many people, this type of security and peace-of-mind is invaluable.

At Arrayent, we are beginning to collaborate with companies that make electrical switches, blinds, windows, and doors and help them build connectivity into their product lines. You can imagine all of the value-increasing possibilities that Internet-connectivity opens up for their products.

There are many ways that a manufacturer can increase the functionality of a product that is already out on the market. Firmware upgrades are one way, and with a wireless connection to the cloud, these firmware upgrades can take place automatically, with no involvement or effort on the part of the user whatsoever.

Arrayent’s “product virtualization” technology is an even more profound way to increase a product’s functionality. Our “product virtualization” technology makes it possible to install important changes in the product without even “touching” the actual device. Our customer’s virtualized products are all controlled remotely via the cloud; upgrading the virtual product manifestation with software instantly upgrades the capability of the device. For example, it wouldn’t be hard at all to add an “Alert” feature to an app that allows you to monitor your garage door remotely.  At the Parks Associates’s  CONNECTIONS 2012 conference in May ,industry analyst Tom Kerber, illustrated the virtual product concept and value with the following slide:

Even-smarter-devices2

Some of the techniques of Big Data come into play here, too. In our light switch example, the product learns your behavior the more you use it, and then takes advantage of that knowledge when you want to use it for other things, be they security or energy conservation.

And again, how you choose to monetize these sorts of upgrades is entirely in your control. Many manufacturers are attracted to smart, connected devices because of the ongoing relationship with their customers that smart devices make possible. Offering customers new services and custom features is an excellent strategy for strengthening and evolving customer relationships.

The Web is revolutionizing many things, including product design. Once upon a time, when a product left the factory, its functionality was set in stone. With Internet-connected devices, the rules of the game have changed. Now, that first product can be just a variation on a theme, with you composing the score.

By Kayce Basques