The Circle of Life… of a Connected Product

Published by Samantha Wheatley April 25, 2017

 Who doesn’t know and love the famous Lion King song, “The Circle of Life”? I suggest you hit play below while you read this post for a truly immersive learning experience.

So why am I asking you to listen to a Disney song and how does it relate to connected products? In this post, I’ll be discussing the lifecycle of connected products.  Like the circle of life, a product goes through many stages.

It’s easy to assume that once a customer successfully connects their device to Wi-Fi, your job is done. But, every good product manager and manufacturer considers all of the stages of the product lifecycle. It’s also his or her duty to manage user data and configuration appropriately and in a way that the customer can understand.

What does a product lifecycle usually look like? 

  • Initial setup: When the customer initially buys the product and sets it up for the first time.
  • Network change: When the user decides to switch the product to another network.
  • Ownership change: A user may choose to sell a product, give it away, or move out of a house and leave the connected product with the home.  

 Let’s assume that we are past the initial setup stage, which we’ve discussed at length (including here and here.)

Network Change

At some point in the life of a product, it may need to be connected to another network.  It might be because the customer is going over to a friend’s house, receives a new Wi-Fi router from their internet service provider, switches ISP, or moves homes.  

The product could still be connected to the internet or it could be disconnected from the internet. The process for navigating the network change is different depending on the technology available.

ZipKey Internet Service Provider

The ideal scenario for a network change is when the Internet Service Provider supports ZipKey. In this case, when the product cannot connect to the private Wi-Fi network it will automatically fall back to the ZipKey hotspot and will pull the updated private Wi-Fi network name and password from the cloud and automatically join the new network. This process is invisible to users and happens on its own in the background.  

ZipKey Hotspot

The next best case is when a product is within range of a ZipKey hotspot.

In this case, when the product can’t connect to the user’s private Wi-Fi network, it will automatically connect to the cloud through the nearby ZipKey hotspot. Then, you can alert the customer in the app that the old network is no longer available. The user can then open the app, select the new Wi-Fi network and enter the password. Done!

It’s simple and reliable and it shows that the product company is proactive in keeping the product connected to the internet.

Bluetooth

If the product is not within range of a ZipKey hotspot, but has Bluetooth, it would be able to turn on the Bluetooth radio so that the app can connect without the user having to change the Wi-Fi network.  

This method is hit or miss and depends on the software version and phone model. In many cases, the customer will default to the worst-case: SoftAP.

SoftAP Mode

And here we are, the worst-case scenario. When a product is not within range of a ZipKey hotspot, the product needs to re-enter SoftAP mode to allow the user to enter new Wi-Fi network credentials (SSID and password).  

The best practice is to have a notification in the app that the product is not able to connect to the internet and give instructions to the user on how to get the product to go back into SoftAP mode. This may involve a holding a button down for an extended period of time, hitting a factory reset button, or some other mechanism. When the user has finished that process, the app should either join the SoftAP network automatically (Android) or ask the user to join the SoftAP network (iOS).

At that time, the app should ask the user for new network credentials and continue the onboarding process until the product is connected.

It’s a cumbersome process that puts the onus of work on the customer.

Frankly, for many products the circle of life ends here. Many users will just give up and leave the product disconnected.  This is not only a disappointment for the customer, but also for the manufacturer.  That customer is likely lost forever.

Ownership Change

The other lifecycle event that product companies should be thinking about is ownership change. Some products may be sold or gifted (like speakers, TVs) and others might stay connected to the home with someone new moving in (like thermostats or washers and dryers). In either case, the product companies should ensure that:

  • Customers have a way to erase their private information from the product and from the cloud.
  • The product returns to brand new condition for the first-time onboarding flow for the new user.

 Whenever possible, customers should be able to run through this process completely with the app, without having access to the physical product. The app should have a page that walks users through how to do this process, and should provide users with confirmation when the process is complete.

If the product is connected to the internet, it should receive notification from the cloud that it should be factory reset, then the product should send confirmation to the cloud that the command was received, and then proceed to factory reset itself.  

If the product is offline when the user does the reset in the app, the app should tell the customer how to factory reset the product physically.  

If you’ve followed my directions at the beginning of the post, you’ll have listened to “The Circle of Life” at least once or twice (you’re welcome). Hopefully, this post gives some clarity into the challenges and changes that can arise in a product’s lifecycle. I can’t stress enough that designing a product with its lifecycle in mind is vital, especially in a competitive market.  

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