The End of Soft AP

Published by Barbara Nelson February 15, 2017

Wi-Fi is great once you can connect to it, but connecting a product that doesn't have a screen or a keyboard to a Wi-Fi network is hard. Accenture found that 20% of people fail outright when trying to get headless products connected to Wi-Fi.  

What is SoftAP?

SoftAP is an abbreviation for software enabled access point, also known as a virtual router. Manufacturers often use SoftAP to let users configure their Wi-Fi network names and passwords into headless products. The product uses its Wi-Fi radio to create a temporary access point for the sole purpose of getting the network name and password for the user’s private network.

The user typically uses an app on a phone to join the SoftAP network, enters the network name and password into the app, the app sends the network name and password to the product, and hopefully the product connects to the internet.

But there’s just one problem...Okay, actually more than one!

First, users just do not understand why they need to disconnect their phone from the internet to get their product connected to the internet.  In Cirrent's usability testing this caused a lot of confusion.

Second, on iOS, the user has to leave the app, go to settings, go to Wi-Fi, and then select the SoftAP Wi-Fi network. If the user is good at following directions and remembers all of the steps then this can work okay. But in Cirrent’s usability testing, we found that more than 20% of people had trouble in this step.  

Often people would just poke around on the app screen hoping something would happen. If they figured out how to get to the settings screen, they often couldn't find their way back to the app.

Third, if anything goes wrong in the process, things fall apart. If the user successfully gets the private network name and password sent to the product, then the product and app disconnect from each other while the product tries to connect to the private network.

If all goes well, they’ll both reconnect to the internet, but if the password is wrong or the product can’t join, the app and product can no longer communicate, and the user gets lost in the process.

The SoftAP process ruins the out-of-box experience, makes a terrible customer experience, reduces net promoter score, leads to scathing product reviews, and ultimately hits the bottom line with high returns, high support costs, and reduced sales.

SoftAP Alternative: ZipKey

Cirrent has worked hard on an alternative that works for mainstream customers: ZipKey. Our usability tests showed 100% success rate—no failures at all. We do this by having a cloud-facilitated process. The app and product are connected to the Cirrent cloud at all times, so the app can walk the user through the process—even if the password is wrong.  

The app guides the user at each step, and the user gets instant feedback so they know if they've entered the wrong password.  Even better, in most cases, the user doesn’t even have to enter a password at all.

Companies making connected products no longer have to force their users through the SoftAP process, invent their own Wi-Fi onboarding solutions, or deal with the support costs, returns, and customers frustrated by a poor out-of-box experience.  ZipKey delivers a great Wi-Fi on-boarding experience, and the end result is delighted customers.

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