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Connected Devices and the Future of User Experience

connected-devicesDare I say, everyone born after 1980 is familiar with a keyboard, trackpad, mouse and touch screen? We've come to expect a wireless remote for anything that needs controlling, and increasingly, we expect information to be readily available, concise and clearly presented at all times.

Generation Y’s involvement in fueling the mobile revolution has rewarded us with powerful computers that fit in the palm of our hand. The story that's being told is “there's an app for that” for everything. It may be a false reality at this time, but it opens the doors for marketers and engineers to think about problems yet to be solved.

The Lines Between Analog and Digital Are Blurred

In its most literal sense, a connected device is one that’s connected to the Internet. It can be used as a remote control or it can be controlled remotely itself. It can also mean connecting "Internet-ready" devices together or retrofitting historically analog devices to be connected.

Why is this exciting? It's exciting because connected devices allow any object to become "smart." They can communicate with one another in ways that will make the end users' life simpler, more informed and thus better. And these devices can detect the behavior of your customers to help you understand their needs more clearly.

The Smartphone Is the Hub of our Lives

The biggest reason cell phones have become the go-to for mobile computing is their portability. But, in addition to portability, their native application ecosystem has played a large part in the rise of cell phones. Native applications, such as the users’ camera, microphone and accelerometer, have given way to the rise of new apps. The joy of using a native app is rooted in the familiarity with the tool itself — knowing it will get the job done. You use a hammer when you have a nail, and you use Google Maps when you have an address. You know you have the right tool for the job.

For marketers and users alike, the drawback is the amount of time you must invest in the app at first. You must unlock your phone, open the app store, search for the app, tap the download button, enter your password, download it and then open it. All these steps before you can see if it's what you wanted and then customize it for your personal use.

A URL offers a much shorter barrier to entry. Your phone needs to be unlocked, a browser opened and a URL entered or clicked. But, once a Web page is loaded, anything can happen. HTML5, WebRTC and other newer browser-based technologies are making it possible to harness the ubiquity of the browser to create amazing, immersive experiences without needing to have a native application.

Connected Events Drive Engagement

What’s the first thing most people do when they walk into a building, sometimes even before they take off their coats? Check for open WiFi. Give your visitors the ability to “hack your space” and interact with one another by simply connecting to your WiFi. We’ve all seen the refrigerator magnets that spell out words and phrases. Imagine giving visitors the ability to control a giant wall of words that makes up a mosaic of your logo, play a virtual instrument or share photos with one another.

Events that connect people with products and experiences drive the most meaningful engagement a brand can ever ask for — emotion.

People will never forget how you made them feel.

People love sharing experiences with one another without having to blast it out to their entire social network. This tribe-like, selective sharing behavior is exactly why teenagers today are moving away from platforms like Facebook and over to micro-communities and platforms that allow a more curated and personal atmosphere.

There Are More Ways to Connect

There is an opportunity today for brands to stake their claim in the future of user perception. Connected devices can allow users to gather more information about a product, while also creating a pleasant brand experience.

  • Imagine a motorized mirror and a camera on top of a sunglass case that could tilt itself automatically so someone trying on glasses could see their reflection without bending over.
  • How about a virtual model that sees you looking at them and smiles back at you? And, what if the lighting around the product changes to a warm color, giving you the encouragement to buy the product? That’s friendlier than going home and buying it on Amazon.
  • What if people could signal a department store sales associate their location, the product they want to try on and their size, all without ever having to download an app? One-click happiness.

Augmented user-driven experiences don't have to just rely on the user's mobile phone for input. The less time users spend looking down at their phones, the better. The use of Internet-capable microprocessors and voltage sensors can connect the physical world to a user. Hardware continues to become easier to work with and more cost effective for brands. The mirror that automatically adjusts can save the height of each customer and help you better understand your audience through data.

See It in Action

Most simply, devices communicate via WiFi (wireless Internet), Bluetooth (radio technology) and NFC (near field communication). A socket server is a piece of software that works like a mail room for directing messages from one connected device to another.

To showcase an example of connected devices, we've created a simple example using NodeJS, a JavaScript-based server technology that organizes and distributes messages sent back and forth between connected devices. We quickly recreated the game of Pong to demonstrate a few of its abilities.


Our demo shows three simultaneously connected devices: a laptop and two smart phones. The laptop is directed to a page that contains Pong's game board. When a mobile phone is connected, a user can pick which paddle they want to control — Player 1 or Player 2. Once both players join, the game begins. Players control their paddles on the screen by moving their thumb up and down on their phone’s screens. The movement of a player's finger on their screen is captured and relayed to a game board through the socket server. And your game of Pong is on.


The Nike Fuel Band is the perfect example of a connected device in action. A simple, unobtrusive bracelet allows people to monitor their physical activity and quickly view the results on their cell phone or computer. Fuel Band users are happier because they have a way to measure their fitness and health. In fact, they now want to exercise more. So, do you think they’re more likely to purchase Nike running shoes or Adidas running shoes after using Fuel Band for their exercise regiment? Exactly.


Light bulbs have almost no brand loyalty. They fall into the category of things you need, but hope you never have to think about. People want to buy light bulbs as quickly and cheaply as possible. But wait: What if you could control your light bulbs from your phone? That might create a bit of brand loyalty. Enter Philips and its HUE lighting system — the perfect example of a normally analog device becoming smart (much to the joy of consumers everywhere).


What are things we all say we should do more regularly? Go for a run, drink more water and floss our teeth? Nike used a connected device to take onthe first challenge, and CamelBak used Google Glass to handle the second. CamelBak’s Thirst Application for Google Glass takes into account the user’s surroundings and offers reminders and recommendations for proper hydration. After such an experience, what kind of bottle or backpack do you think they’ll be drinking water out of? Your move, dental floss brand.

Where Does Your Connected Future Sit?

With every new advancement in technology, the possibilities grow for brands to create something new and disruptive — to cut through the “sea of same” and truly engage with consumers. The more crowded the retail experience gets, the bigger the opportunity for marketers. The brands that focus on transparency, values and delivering a better end-to-end experience will be the ones that win.

What will you disrupt?