How IoT Changes the Definition of Products

If you’ve been following the internet of things (IoT) trend, you know products aren’t what they used to be. It’s not enough anymore to offer the most comfortable grip or lightest weight model. Your toothbrush should now track your hygiene habits, while your dog’s dish is ordering its own kibble.

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Clearly, IoT is dramatically redefining  products across every industry. It may even be changing the definition of the word “product.”

Products are more than physical artefacts now

For most of our lives, products have been physical objects—something you could box up and put up for sale on a shelf, in a display case, or out on the lot. But today it takes more than a beautifully packaged, monotasking hunk of steel, plastic, and electronics to wow consumers—especially when the competition’s model can do all that and unlock the door, send updates, call a repair technician, and respond to the sound of your voice.

New products, more and more often, now include sensors, software, antennae, and more. They’re bringing together disciplines that haven’t traditionally been included in the product development cycle:  software expertise, analytics, even social sciences (think security and privacy).  In short, whatever you’re industry, IoT is probably making your products more complex.

What all smart connected products have in common

In the article, How Smart Connected Products Are Transforming Companies, Michael Porter and Jim Heppelmann break down IoT products into three basic components:

All smart, connected products, from home appliances to industrial equipment, share three core elements: physical components (such as mechanical and electrical parts); smart components (sensors, microprocessors, data storage, controls, software, an embedded operating system, and a digital user interface); and connectivity components (ports, antennae, protocols, and networks that enable communication between the product and the product cloud, which runs on remote servers and contains the product’s external operating system).

If you want to see an amazing demo of how it might work in the future, check out this visionary video John Deere produced a few years ago:

So what’s your product again?

If smart connected products now involve software, mobile devices, the internet, and more, how do you define your product?

That’s a question Alyssa Walker, Academic Programs Manager at PTC, addresses as she’s demonstrating a smart connected light bulb in the free online course, Unpacking the Internet of Things. The light bulb in her example can change colors with the sound of her voice.

“What is the product? Is it still the light bulb?” asks Walker. “What about the app that controls it? Or the device that supports the app?”

She points out that the value of the bulb changes too. Consumers no longer buy the bulb because it will light up the room. Now they may be choosing the products because of it also changes colors, includes remote control, and even brings entertainment value.

Now, people aren’t just buying useful objects, they’re buying experiences.

Alyssa Walker from the Udemy course, "Unpacking the Internet of Things."

Image: Screen shot of Alyssa Walker from the Udemy course “Unpacking the Internet of Things.”

What Product Developers Need to Know

What does all this mean to the mechanical engineers and designers who actually engineer the physical objects?

According to Porter, it means you can expect change. He says smart, connected products require a rethinking of design. At the most basic level, product development shifts from largely mechanical engineering to true interdisciplinary systems engineering.

Learn more

If you’re not already designing products for the Internet of Things, or even if you are and you want to learn more about how it works and how it’s impacting industry, check out PTC’s series hosted on Udemy. The series includes three courses:

  • Unpacking the IoT
  • Simple framework for designing IoT products
  • New business markets in the Internet of Things.

The series focuses on general product development and business strategies with the IoT and includes presentations, demos, and use cases.

If you’ve never taken a massive open online course before, you might be surprised at how accessible and engaging they can be. With these well-produced courses, you can watch the whole series, or just pick and choose videos. Do the assignments, or don’t. You can even speed up the lectures.  But best of all, you can quickly and painlessly update your knowledge and skills in the very fast-changing world of IoT and product development.

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