Things & Light Switches

From Sesame Street to Qualcomm labs, Noah Harlan has become a leader in the connected economy. He is the current President of the Allseen Alliance.

Gary Schwartz speaks to Noah about his journey with Two Bulls and discuss how the IoT (Internet of Things) is going mainstream with connected devices.

I first connected with Two Bulls back in 2009 in Abu Dhabi were you were developing Hidden Parks that made public spaces into kids adventures using location and storytelling. Making colored worms and fearless dragons appearing in your local park.
And then you went on a journey that took you through Sesame Street and into the middle of Internet of Things with the AllSeen Alliance. I want to understand this technology / creative odyssey and hopefully draw from you some insights that you have had along the way.
How did designing a narrative and UI for kids help evolve your thinking on IOT? @noahharlan
Hidden Park pushed the boundaries of what was then possible with the iPhone technically in service of a great experience. We wanted to build a ‘game’ that used the world around us and delivered a new form of narrative. To do that we needed to solve hard tech under great UI.
IoT is simply a marketing term for connected devices. Too many people think about “IoT” and not use cases and experience. We have always focused on solving hard tech so we can provide seamless, highly-useful experiences. It’s not tech for tech’s sake. It’s delivering utility.
Each generation of marketing departments seem to rename solutions in order to own them. M2M became IOT then the “Internet of Everything” now “connected devices” (seems like a keeper).
What (in your experience) will drive the “utility” and immersive experience necessary to drive adoption? For example, what did you learn through your work with clients like Sesame Street, and other clients that you can apply to designing connected devices?
The value in IoT is in practical applications, not immersive experiences. Driving utility means solving core problems, preferably at scale. Issues like how can connected devices help farmers better monitor soil & crops or enable the elderly to stay in their homes longer.
Smart cities, smart grids, large scale low data networks - these are going to drive enormous value and opportunity in connected devices.
As to what we have taken from our immersive experiences and childrens work, it’s really about creating products that you interact with seamlessly and intuitively. Connected devices have been around a long, long time, but the interfaces and implementations were painful & complex.
A light switch is a seamless and intuitive utility. It is simple for all ages and demographics. Explain how this is an aspirational design principle.
I use a light switch in my talks as the paragon of a perfect computing device: immediately comprehensible UX, zero latency, 100% uptime, and cheap. If you want to replace it with something else you have to bring *a lot* of utility to make up for dropping any of those qualities.
So from a consumer perceptive utility, simplicity, cost will drive adoption of connected devices. Standards and interoperability must be a key ingredient. Conflicting standards must be obstacle? What is the “light switch” solution to the connected device economy?
You need interop at multiple levels of the OSI stack & across different protocols & technologies at each layer. There won’t be 1 standard to rule them all - you’ll have translators at the edge, mostly in routers, between protocols. The challenge then becomes end-to-end security.
Utility, simplicity and now, security seem to be the ingredients to a successful connected device. As we build the smart grids and large-scale / low-data networks to power our smart devices, do security and data privacy become hurdles?
Security of the grid is easier to address then security at the edge - it’s easier to secure Fort Knox then to secure every person’s individual jewelry box at home. Also, while there is technical overlap, the needs of consumer and industrial connected devices are discrete.
For consumer IoT, simplicity and clear out-of-the-box utility are paramount (can grandma use it?). For industrial and enterprise IoT the value drivers are more economic. Simplicity there is valuable primarily to drive down cost of implementation and operation, not for adoption.
Give me a snapshot of Noah’s connected world over the next 5 years? Let’s presume that the needs of consumer and needs of industry align; there is still a ungodly soup of solutioning. Last year, 80 million smart home devices were delivered worldwide, over 60% increase from 2015.
Do you see the master-control functionality of VOICE (with Google Home and Echo) providing simplicity and more utility for “grandma”?
Chaos in IoT interoperability will persist for a while but some companies are getting better at working around it. Smart Things’ new onboarding is fantastic and Alexa will continue to expand capabilities. The industry will inevitably coalesce around a handful of key vendors.
Voice is convenient but is still clunky and provisioning temporary users is problematic. How do you let someone turn on your lights when they are in your home but not when they’re out?
The voice IoT nightmare is connecting locks to voice and then thieves drive through a neighborhood with a massive speaker calling out “Alexa, unlock the door!” and then just try doors until one opens...
(Of course there is the wonderful airtight IFTTT alternative of changing Alexa command from UNLOCK to UNLATCH to outwit the robber.) Yes, I see your point.
So in sum, connected devices need to provide a seamless, highly-useful experience, work with zero latency, have tight yet non-obstructive security and are as intuitive as a light switch?
Pretty much. Or at least that’s the standard against which you’ll be measured so if you’re going to compromise some aspect of that the value you’re returning in exchange has to be sufficient to overcome the degraded experience.
Thank you for the insightful interview on connected devices @noahharlan. #IoT #AllseenAlliance #TwoBulls