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Bringing Your Products to Life

The connected market has changed during COVIDAre you ready for what’s next?

Technology has been a lifeline throughout the pandemic. While thermal cameras, contact tracing devices, and health-monitoring wearables helped contain the virus, software and connected apps made life under quarantine more bearable. Personalized apps let harried parents order groceries between Teams meetings and math lessons, and smart doorbells confirmed contact-free delivery. More than half of us visited healthcare providers from the safety of our laptops, phones, and tablets. We used connected fitness equipment and wearables to stay on track with workouts, while smart devices mowed our lawns, watered our gardens, and cleaned our air.

Now, as the recovery gains momentum, consumers and corporations alike are primed to accelerate budgets.18 At the same time, employers are scrambling to lure workers and create safer workplaces amidst historic labor shortages. IoT has a key role to play in this unfamiliar landscape. The “early adopter” phase is long gone, but brands that step up to adapt and accelerate their connected product strategies can still gain a competitive edge. 

Life @ Home: Getting smarter by the minute

The transition to working from home will have a lasting impact on consumer adoption of IoT.

The pandemic stress-tested consumers’ appetite for smart home devices, creating a captive focus group of more than 200 million people almost overnight. By the end of June 2020, 42% of the U.S. labor force was working from home full-time1, K-12 schools were shuttered, and college students had returned home in droves. No wonder the first half of 2020 saw an increase in e-commerce equal to that of the previous 10 years.17  

Innovative businesses responded quickly with actions that will shape consumer behavior for years to come. It’s more bad news for smart home laggards or skeptics still waiting to see how “this IoT thing” pans out. COVID shutdowns confirmed that consumers crave ease, safety, and convenience—and they’re turning to connected tech to find it.   

  • The average U.S. household now has a total of 25 connected devices—up from 11 in 2019.  
  • Online and app-based food ordering grew from 36% to 56% during COVID3, while clicking and picking up non-food products grew from 31% to 51%.4 
  • More than 1 in 3 U.S. consumers now own a smartwatch or fitness tracker5, and spending on wearables is expected to exceed $80B in 2021, driven by the rise in remote work and interest in health monitoring.6

Consumer appetite for connected, personalized products and services is poised not only to stick, but to accelerate.

If it takes 66 days for habits to become automatic7, the past 18 months have provided more than enough time to rewire our digital behaviors. The majority of consumers who started shopping via smartphone and using telehealth for doctor appointments say they’ll continue to do so.8,9 Likewise, consumers show little interest in abandoning flexible fitness routines, improved home security, and faster connections that enable everyone to work and play under the same roof without fighting for bandwidth. Some categories, like smart doorbells, thermostats, and pet devices, will become even more vital as people resume office commutes and personal travel. Consumer appetite for connected, personalized products and services is poised not only to stick, but to accelerate. The bar has been raised, and there’s nowhere to go but up.  

Life @ Work: Connected trends are reshaping the office experience 

Employee concerns are opening up new revenue options for connected device makers. 

The line between home and work—already blurred by 24/7 tech—was obliterated by COVID. Over the course of 2020, millions of work and home lives collided, cracked, and coalesced into something new. Now, people may be returning to the office, but things are not returning to normal. Workers have adopted a new set of expectations about comfort, convenience, and above all, safety. The go-forward hybrid model preferred by managers and employees is poised to perpetuate the home/work tension. The stakes are high: As businesses strive to ramp back up, workers are quitting at record rates and unfilled job openings are reaching new highs. (If you’re looking, Vectorform is hiring!) Many employees are refusing to return to work or negotiating for more hours at home, citing concerns about COVID in the workplace.

Connected device makers can ease the transition and provide safer workplaces—all while creating new revenue streams. Consider the U.S. air purifier market, which grew 57% in 2020 and is expected to see double-digit growth over the next two years.10  Businesses could launch a smart fleet of roaming air purifiers that provide employees with real-time readings on air quality in their workspace, rather than vague reassurances from executives that “we’ve improved the HVAC system.” Likewise, wearables could allay concerns about colleagues spreading COVID. Professional sports teams11 and cruise lines have already mandated wearables12 that track who goes within six feet of whom.

Similar products could be adapted for life in the office or warehouse, vibrating when safe distances are breached and providing another layer of protection past thermal scanners at the main entry. Touch-free appliances in break rooms, hands-free data access on the manufacturing line, and anticipatory replenishment for office supplies offer additional options. Smart cameras can track and display real-time occupancy levels in work areas and commercial spaces. The opportunities for improving (and monetizing) the post-pandemic workspace are limited largely by a brand’s imagination and willingness to innovate during uncertain times.

Life in the Fast Lane: The case for rapid product innovation

Brands that pulled back on IoT investments in 2020 are falling dangerously behind. 

There are good excuses for inaction, of course: supply chains are in disarray, triggering shortages in everything from semiconductor chips to ketchup packets. But contrary to popular belief, the sidelines aren’t a safe place to stand when it comes to connected tech. In a recent PwC survey of business leaders, more than 6 in 10 said that 4IR technologies such as IoT, AI, and cloud computing actually provide protection against an economic downturn.13 And McKinsey research concludes that “those that act boldly to stage a strong exit from this economic crisis can maintain their edge for a decade or more.”14  

You can’t afford to let supply chain shortages keep you from testing and validating your products today. 

Most companies seem intent on seizing the moment. The big winners will be those pushing forward at full speed, with a commitment to addressing new customer needs and preferences. 85% of CEOs plan to increase their investments in digital transformation in 2021, and half of those plan to increase those investments significantly.15 In other words, more players are entering the game, and the leaders are planning to pull even further ahead when the next disruption hits.16 That means you can’t afford to let supply chain shortages keep you from testing and validating your products today.

If you were listening to voice of product (VOP) during the pandemic, you already have a steady flow of real-time data from your existing products to analyze. If you’re not yet tapped into VOP, don’t fall into the trap of relying on pre-pandemic customer surveys and research—too much has changed. Instead, use this “down time” to conduct new user studies, re-evaluate your competitive landscape, recalibrate your product roadmap, and start prototyping without hardware so that you can queue up quickly once supply chain issues are resolved. (There are plenty of options for moderated and unmoderated remote UX testing, with specialized testing tools and apps that let you quickly gather feedback from a broad audience, even with a modest budget.)  

Even if you can’t start manufacturing due to supply chain constraints, you can be learning and testing in-house through 3-D modeling and VR-enabled product testing. Volkswagen recently shook up the product development process by doing just that. They developed the prototype for their new crossover SUV, Nivus, in 100% virtual reality, reducing costs by 65% and shaving nearly a full calendar year off the design phase.17 Odds are, your product is less complex than an SUV. But the benefits of digital product development speeds collaboration on any scale, allowing your design, QA, and production teams to experience the product and make rapid adjustments without having to re-build physical prototypes.

  • Where to start: Wherever you are.  
  • When to start: NOW.  
  • How to start:  
    1. Listen to the voice of connected products. If you aren’t already plugged into VOP, it’s time to start.  
    2. Re-calibrate your product roadmap. Assess market opportunities that reflect the new realities of life at home and work.  
    3. Partner with IoT experts rather than waiting to find “perfect hires” to build out your product strategy. Outside firms can immediately fill talent gaps, advise on emerging trends, and slash development time. 



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