IOT: The Competition for Attention

My most recent post on LinkedIn cross-posted here.


The Internet of Things (IOT) is everywhere. It was the only news at CES and it’s presently at the top of the hype curve with press attention on Apple’s new secret car,Homekit becoming available with iOS 8.1.3 and the Apple Watch launching soon!

But with IOT comes a whole new set of problems, and I (selfishly) believe that calendar and AI will be a key pillars in enabling the future IOT software platform.

Why? IOT devices are not meant to collect dust but to be actionable. Being actionable means being used and when your Amazon Echo sits on your counter and collects dust, it’s not actionable. To mitigate this, every IOT device needs to speak-up – they are competing for your attention.

To compete, they send notifications (email, SMS etc): “Cheerios are on sale,” “You’re running low on milk,” “You’re laundry machine will be done in 35 minutes,” “You haven’t walked enough steps today” and so forth.

As I alluded to in a previous post, your email is transforming from a collection of human communication to machine generated messages and tasks. And your calendar will follow because every great IOT notification is an actionable task which needs to be scheduled back into your calendar (eg “Oil change needed soon”).

So How Can We Fix This?

Well, first off, it’d be great if just 10 percent of the notifications I get on my phone were useful. And to do that would not be hard:

  1. Let me configure my notifications – Facebook and others give me too many notifications and IOT is going to fall into the same trap. Yes, I don’t want to be notified by my smart sink each morning that the water quality has negligibly gone up or down. It’s a novel concept at first but it gets old quickly — and even faster if you are sending it to me on every device!
  2. Learn which notifications I read and more importantly respond to – Email marketers are experts at this, they know when you open and click a link in an email. Notifications are the same thing, they are just another form of CRM. See Kahuna for example.
  3. Use the signals you have – More signals are not necessarily better, but the right signals can make a huge difference. Dear Nest, if you can tap into my calendar to better know when I’m home or not, and subsequently save me money on my heating bill, that’d be awesome!
  4. Be smart about when to bother me – Imagine a real-world assistant receiving a call while you were in a meeting. He wouldn’t interrupt your meeting unless he thought the call was important enough. This is hard and this is where AI and using the user’s own data (calendar, email, Facebook, Linkedin, location etc) to understand intent can make a huge difference. I do want to know “Cheerios are on sale” but only when I go shopping.

Next, distinguish between content and tasks. Most notifications are content and this can get overwhelming real fast. Two years ago, maybe one app told me whose birthday it was today but now I receive this notification from multiple apps on multiple channels each day this is annoying. Be smart about firing content notifications and focus on the unique, not the obvious.

Even better though are task-based notifications; telling me I need to buy milk is better but I don’t want that to clutter my email. Instead, map that task to my calendar, add it to my todo list, and present it to me at the right time.

The competition for attention is real – it’s happening and IOT will take it to a new level. Leveraging simple AI smarts, providing configuration and mapping those task notifications to your todo list and calendar will help. The winning IOT devices are those that are smart enough to keep my attention over the long run.

Author: mobileraj


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