The smartphone and its ecosystem of applications are disrupting industries: sales of point-and-shoot digital cameras are plummeting, earnings of GPS navigation devices makers are slipping and the cost of taxi licences is going down (almost) as fast as Uber revenues are going up.
Thanks to software, the very same smartphone can be used for very different purposes. We all know the line: “There is an app for that.” But what if an app is not the best way to get “that” done?
Last week, Amazon introduced the Dash Button, a WIFI-enabled physical device that lets consumers re-order items as soon as they run out, with a simple press.
In terms of customer experience, what can possibly be easier than pushing a button? Imagine that you are in the laundry room. You notice that you are running out of washing powder and would like to re-order some. With a button like Amazon Dash, you do not need to take your smartphone out of your pocket (provided that you bring your smartphone into the laundry room), open an app, search for washing powder and add it to your shopping cart. You just need to press a physical button located in front of you. And voilà! This makes a lot of sense and Amazon is already working with companies such as Whirlpool, Britta and Brother to integrate the Dash button into washing machines, water pitchers and printers.
From the consumer’s perspective, no app is involved. The experience is all about “hardware”. Is the pendulum starting to swing back at mobile apps? Will smartphones be disrupted by smarter versions of some of the “dumb” devices they replaced?
The smartphone/tablet as universal remote control?
In 2013, Evian worked on a connected device called the Evian Smart Drop that let users of evianchezvous.com service order bottles of water to be delivered to their home. Contrary to the Amazon Dash Button, the Evian Smart Drop (which actually never launched) integrates a tiny screen where users have to select the items they would like to order.
In a situation where users have options – such as selecting the type of items they would like to order – buttons do not provide the most appropriate user interface. Sure, one could ship as many buttons as people have options, but that would be like shipping a smartphone with a keyboard. So, is integrating a display into the device to let users input their choices the right thing to do?
Whether they are thermometers, locks or light bulbs, all connected devices ship with a dedicated mobile app (and an API) to control them. This also applies to the Dash Button, which comes with an app that lets users select which product will be ordered when the button is pressed.
In 2015, manufacturers consider the smartphone/tablet as the natural display for their connected devices. With 3/4 of the population owning a smartphone, this makes sense.
One device to rule them all?
Yet, with the multiplication of connected devices comes the multiplication of apps and the inconvenient necessity to switch between them. Companies such as Wink, SmartThings (acquired by Samsung) and Revolv (acquired by Google) are working to unify the connected home. Apple is about to enter this market with HomeKit, “a framework for communicating with and controlling connected accessories in a home“. Siri and a revamped Apple TV are expected to play a central role in HomeKit, letting people control their connected devices by voice. “Lights, fade out.”