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.

Using a Chromebook for a Week

Apologies for the lack of posts, I’ve been heads down incubating at SRI.

Last week, on almost an 18-month basis, it was time to send in my HP laptop into warranty. I’m not sure why I continue to buy AMD based laptops considering they are plagued with over-heating issues (and I’m sure my over-use lifestyle doesn’t help). In any case, the laptop was off to warranty and so I only had my Chromebook.

I made sure to copy all relevant docs off my laptop into a personal folder on my Dropbox and my recent move to Office365 with some pain (for another post) meant all of my email was in the cloud (and yes, I use Gmail as well but I am an Outlook fan). I also took out the primary drive since warranty seemingly wants to format the primary disk as if that helps solve the problem (but that’s for another story).

Day 1 with the Chromebook wasn’t too bad, it was a lot lighter than my 17-inch laptop and so that made it easier to work with and the battery life was awesome but then I hit my first snag. Not sure what are the odds, but I received an email with a video product demo attached. I probably have only received a video attachment in my email maybe 10-20 times in my life and it happened to be this week, ha! In any case, you realize pretty quickly that the Chromebook can’t really open or play miscellaneous attachments. So I had two options, open it on another computer or upload the video to YouTube to than watch it (sounds counter-intuitive); I decided to defer until I got my laptop back.

Day 2, 3, 4 etc went pretty smoothly. I was finding that the Chromebook was very sufficient but I was starting to miss something and I realized it was the geek in me. Windows and Linux desktops allow you to constantly just “tweak” around, I’m not sure how you describe it but it’s the moving of icons, adjusting folder properties, renaming files, re-ordering your tray, performing pointless upgrades etc etc. Maybe it’s just me, but I find these little bits of activities to be almost fillers of micro-boredom, maybe best analog’ed to the mobile app ecosystem where much of the fun is in just browsing and randomly downloading/uninstalling. That piece was missing with the Chromebook and it almost felt like I was not being productive since I was always in the browser?

Five days had passed and I somehow managed to not have to edit a PPT or an XLS considering I’m a PPT and XLS monkey. Part of that was because I timed the warranty with a long weekend and so I was mostly offline. In any case, this is where the fun began. As much as I love Google docs and use it extensively, it’s no substitute for Excel or Powerpoint (or even Keynote, I’ve had a Mac laptop as well). Editing a financial plan in Google Docs was a non-starter and so I thought I’d give Office Web Apps a shot and this is where it broke down. Whether it’s Microsoft or Chrome, Excel and Powerpoint online was not really working via the Chromebook. I’ve certainly played with it in the past via Chrome on my PC but it just didn’t work on my Chromebook. Considering that these items were time critical, I ended-up borrowing another laptop to edit these docs and unfortunately had to keep that laptop because I can’t “slideshow” from the Chromebook. I suspect Google is thinking through all of these scenarios and is probably targeting the more casual web user as opposed to the hyper-prosumer but I would add that I did make time for Allies and Empires and Flash is awfully slow on the Chromebook.

My laptop arrived a day early and I was back to my PC. Fortunately, I managed to not sign-into Skype that week since it was a meeting-full week but I do remember one day where I was looking for the calculator app and realized that there is no calculator on the Chromebook; I tried simple arithmetic through the Google search engine and that did pretty well 🙂 Anyways, summarizing, I was pleased with the Chromebook but it wasn’t sufficient for my needs. For vacation, it’d probably be perfect and for most folks I know who primarily only browse, it’s more than sufficient. I presume Google will build more stuff locally into the Chromebook to substitute for some of these problems (looking more and more like an OS) but regardless of how rich they make the device, if it feels like it’s all in a browser, I will certainly miss the pleasure from tweaking arrays of options and menus!