Webstock: The Shape of Things

by Luke Wroblewski February 11, 2016

In his The Shape of Things presentation at Webstock 2016 in Wellington New Zealand, Tom Coates shared his latest thoughts on designing for the Internet of Things. Here's my notes from his talk:

  • People used believed there would just be a few large computers that took care of our needs. They genuinely believed there wouldn’t be lots of little computers everywhere.
  • This year there will be 1.5 billion smartphones sold. In one human lifetime we went from essentially nothing to billions of computers shipped each year. There’s no sign of a slow-down.
  • In the future computers will be integrated into everything even when they only make tiny improvements. We already have smart ovens, scales, cleaners, security systems, batteries, etc.
  • You should use the network to amplify a tool’s core purpose not to be another Web browse or Twitter client.
  • There’s a push in the design industry to integrate software and physical objects. But we should be doing the reverse.
  • Many believe the world of screens and icons is an abstraction and that we should get back to manipulating the World as we used to: with our hands. The metaphor is enhancement: take an ordinary object and give it magical properties through network integration. The process is moving from abstraction to tangible interactions.
  • But is this really the answer to how we interact with networked objects? Perhaps not because the power of connected objects is in the connections. And those are hard to display physically.
  • An embodied object is not the same as the Internet of Things. We want our environment to respond to us not each individual objects.
  • Imagine if every object is completely intuitive because of interfaces optimized for specific tasks. You have to learn each of these UIs. But with a general purpose interface, you only have to learn to use it once to enable a variety of tasks.
  • What we should do instead is push the service layer further: to detach even more from objects. As an example, ZipCar uses very little hardware and is 95% service layer. All the value lies at this layer.
  • The ideal service layer: gives you control; supports you from initial set-up to the day you recycle it; understands it will be used by multiple people (the World is multi-user); is able to work easily with other devices; does not expect you to be a programmer; communicates clearly and politely in ways that are timely and familiar.
  • These six principles are important for any Internet of Things service layer. Thingdom is trying to build a UI layer that is rooted in social networking models and includes “robot butler” style prompts.
  • This type of service layer will ultimately exist for the planet. It will define how we interact with the World. Someone will build this, and infuse it with their ethics and beliefs. Get involved so your views are integrated.