Home 3 Service-Layer Strategies to Make Your IoT Product’s UX Shine

3 Service-Layer Strategies to Make Your IoT Product’s UX Shine

I approach my personal life much as I do my products: always seeking a better user experience. So when I learned about the Jawbone sleep tracker, I was intrigued. I spend a third of my life sleeping — I’d love to learn a little bit more about what’s going on during that time!

Unfortunately, the Jawbone device itself wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be. With a poorly designed clasp, it came undone at random times. Was it water resistant as advertised? Not really, though I was allowed to freely exchange the one I got wet.

So why, given all its flaws, did I buy Jawbone’s wearable not twice but three times? Thanks to a stellar app interface, the device’s UX struck me as stronger than anything else on the market.

Let this be a lesson to everyone building Internet of Things devices: The product doesn’t have to be perfect if its service layer offers tremendous value. The Jawbone app’s sleep quality graphs kept me loyal despite the product’s physical failings.

Of course, this isn’t to suggest that you should create subpar hardware. We love our industrial design counterparts. Through tireless iteration, your goal should be to provide the market with the best solution, inside and out. But if you have to skimp somewhere, don’t do it on the service layer. The web interface is where users derive the value from a connected product. An IoT product that delivers a standout service is one worth buying, even if the rest of the unit isn’t perfect.

Start With the Service Layer

To crush the competition with your IoT device’s service layer:

1. Be the user’s preferred painkiller.

A while back, a client asked us to help with a smart meter service that helps users monitor and manage their energy consumption. But users don’t need a better meter — there are dozens of lookalike options out there already. They need an easy-to-use interface. So we built an all-in-one dashboard with real-time usage charts, consumption goals, and calendars.

Start by understanding the pain your target user is facing with a technique called empathy mapping. An empathy map puts you (and, if you work at an agency, your client) inside your user’s head to learn what she is thinking as she tries to solve her problem. Empathy mapping is the first step in creating a user persona. These exercises might lead you to hardware insights, but first and foremost, it’ll tell you what sort of service your user needs.

Plan to identify and describe real users, naming them to discuss their issues plainly. “Roger loves to run, but he struggles to hold himself accountable to his running goals” is what Apple’s designers might’ve said when building out user personas for the latest Apple Watch. Through the iPhone app, the Apple Watch generates stretch goals for users while tracking their daily process. Whatever your opinion of the watch itself, there’s no doubt its service layer is strong.

2. Push insights at the right time.

An insight in the wrong context is just a meaningless data point. Knowing what information the user needs starts with mapping out their journey, perhaps during or after your empathy-mapping exercise.

To build your journey map, plot on the horizontal axis the steps or actions the user takes chronologically with your product. On the vertical axis, add themes to understand what information or insights the user needs at each step. Turn to your empathy map, surveys, prototyping feedback, and qualitative interviews to understand the needs of your user at specific times. This will give you the context to determine what insights will be meaningful.

We conduct journey maps for every product we build. For example, a fitness product’s journey map led us to add calendar functionality into the app so users could preschedule their workouts and receive reminders. Constantly updated workout data kept users motivated when they needed it most. Sleep Number’s It Bed is another prime example. When It Bed’s users wake up, they find a series of charts on their prior night’s sleep waiting for them.

3. Take a long view.

Truly useful IoT devices don’t just serve up here-and-now insights. Because they’re basically sensors paired with an app interface, IoT products’ greatest value often lies in trend data. A home energy consumer, for example, doesn’t just want to know how many kilowatt hours she’s using today; she is interested in how her electricity usage fluctuates over time. Only then can the user know which actions have the biggest impact on her bill.

If you conduct enough research and talk to your users, you’ll discover what long-term things they want to track. The creators of Interact IoT, for example, learned that their users of cashless payment methods like Apple Pay were losing track of their spending. Interact IoT connects with devices like the Nest thermostat and the Pavlok wristband, helping users stay under their monthly budget by turning down their thermostat or shocking their wrist.

Now, for the elephant in the room: Jawbone closed its doors last summer — but not because of problems with the UX of its products. By many analysts’ accounts, the wearable firm ran low on capital while it spread itself too thin on product lines. So no, I won’t be ordering a fourth Jawbone. I’ll have to just hold out until a sleep tracker with an even better UX meets the market.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Tony Scherba
President and Founding Partner of Yeti LLC

Tony Scherba is the president and a founding partner of Yeti LLC, a product-focused development and design studio in San Francisco.

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