My father has fully embraced IoT integration into his everyday life. If you spent a day at my parent’s house, you’d notice that a significant number of their household functions are controlled digitally. A sliver of pure irony shines through when I, the millennial who works at an IoT software startup, can’t figure out how to turn on the living room lights. From the speaker system, to the thermostat, to the fairy lights on the back porch, almost every digital device in that house can be controlled through Alexa or my dad’s smartphone.
My father’s devotion to maximizing his smart home capacity isn’t so much an edge case, but a good look into where many (privileged) houses and modern spaces are headed very soon.
Before his household was successfully established as a facsimile IoT hub, my dad had to connect each device to the wireless network, his mobile device and often to each other. As a product designer in the IoT industry, that setup is a process of significant importance to me. The pairing or association of devices to things is something I often must account for when working on IoT solutions. I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank the brave UX pioneers before me who tackled the very first IoT device pairings and set the standards for what does and doesn’t work.
There are several key factors that come into play when designing a fluid and easy-to-comprehend pairing journey. For starters, you must take into account what kind of hardware you’re working with. When assessing the hardware, there are ways you can configure a device to communicate a message, even when that device doesn’t have a physical screen. Sensors can often be built with small lights to communicate connectivity status. For example, take a look at your router or modem for an example. You should see several blinking or solid lights, each relaying a different message about the status of your device's connectivity or signal strength.
When it comes to device setup and pairing, you also have to consider whether the goal is a single item pairing or if you want the ability to batch associate your devices. For example, connecting a wireless speaker to your mobile device is a one-time association. Once it is up, the devices should remember one another and result in easy pairing for as long as you have them. Of course you want to create a simple and concise experience for setting up your wireless speaker to your phone, but since this isn’t going to be a repeat action, there isn’t a massive amount of pressure on the designer to make sure it can be done in one or two clicks maximum.
On the other hand, there are scenarios in which repeat association makes more sense. For example, in a vehicle monitoring solution, you may have a person associating trackers to hundreds of cars per day. In this case, your goals as a designer might pivot a bit to account for a quicker association process to avoid user frustration.
In retail IoT solutions, the pairing process plays a significant role in whether or not the product sells. It is increasingly common that someone will purchase a smart device, excited for the accessibility boost it has promised to provide, only to abandon the device altogether due to a frustrating setup experience. More often than not, people also do not have the spare time or patience to call a customer representative to walk them through the setup.
However, for the ones that do make that call, it increases the cost for the producer who must staff and maintain a customer support team that meets this demand. Establishing a comprehensible and fluid pairing setup process for your product will remove this burden from both consumer and producer.
Since IoT solutions often promise increased accessibility, the pairing process for these devices should follow suit. Anyone should be able to pair their IoT devices to their networks, other devices, etc. regardless of their technical background. Pairing IoT Devices to things must be easy because it will soon become a universal action as IoT devices further intertwine with household items. Even the least technologically-familiar person should be able to follow the instructions on the screen to associate their smart device to their network and other devices.