Hidden Opportunities in the IoT: Ambient User Experience

If you are looking for a good source of information and body of research on all things business and technology, arguably there is not a better resource than Gartner. It is definitely worth a few minutes to go to their technology page once a week and browse or even to sign up for their email alerts and newsletters.

A couple weeks ago, Gartner sent me a nice piece on the “Top Ten Strategic Trends of 2016”.  If you didn’t see it, it is worth a read and my purpose in writing here is not to summarize that for you but rather to highlight one part of it and draw some relevant implications to our AV businesses.

The AV world is all abuzz with the term IoT, and rightfully so. The connected world we live in is becoming an increasingly complex mesh of devices with internet access. As AV companies, we all see the amazing opportunity that this presents. However I would also argue that we are getting hung up on two parts of the IoT and perhaps missing some of the more profitable opportunities that it may present.

As AV manufacturers who make boxes and as integrators who have traditionally sold and integrated boxes, it is no surprise that most of the talk around the IoT is around the part known as the Device Mesh, which “includes mobile devices, wearable, consumer and home electronic devices, automotive devices and environmental devices — such as sensors.”

In the long term however, we all know what happens to hardware. Margins decrease and commoditization sets in.  In the case of IoT devices, I’d say that race to zero is even more accelerated, especially with a plethora of direct to consumer, DIY hardware out in the marketplace.

Many integrators already know the reality of the device mesh profitability conundrum and also understand the potential security risks a large number of connected devices can represent. Integrators in this camp have rightfully focused on securing devices on the IoT, creating a value proposition beyond that of the black box reseller. Although how many of these are focusing on the “adaptive” security mentioned by Gartner I can’t say.

It goes without saying that any IoT design or strategy has to include devices and make sure they are secure. I would also argue that the systems that do this in a way that is fine tuned to each individual user will be the ones that really differentiate themselves form the rest of the pack.

This is the promise of The Ambient User Experience.


Users should be able to transition seamlessly out of one facility to the next, automatically connecting and communicating their preferences on the fly and without any input from the user. Imagine leaving your house for work as your phone switches the music you were listening to inside automatically from your Bluetooth soundbar to your car radio. Then as you arrive at work, your phone unlocks the door, your desk powers up while you are in the elevator, and as you arrive at your workstation your schedule is displayed for the day. Upon arriving at your hotel, as you enter the room, your comfort profile changes the lighting levels and air conditioning settings, as well as configures the computer at the desk to already be loaded with access to your content and personal preferences.

The ambient user experience is just that. Ambient. It is not device dependent. It is not platform dependent.  It is not location dependent. It is everywhere you are.

Take this a step further. If your profile and unique ID is coded to a token that you wear or that is implanted somewhere on your body, then potentially every device is your device. You could pick up a phone and it would automatically assign it your SIM settings for calls and proper billing. Then you could pick up an iPad and your iCloud would already be accessible for a presentation. BYOD would be a concern of the past, as now every device is potentially YOUR device. Hand it to the person next to you and now it is their device, complete with their profiles, settings and content.

As Gartner defines it, the Ambient User Experience “seamlessly flows across a shifting set of devices and interaction channels blending physical, virtual and electronic environments as the user moves from one place to another.”

This is the true meaning of ubiquitous, which begs the question:

Is proprietary the enemy of ubiquitous?

Crestron is doing some amazing things with their new PinPoint technology that allows a user’s device to adapt to its location within a building to provide wayfinding, explore scheduling, and assign device control functions. IT is a step toward the ambient user experience described above. But there is one problem. It only works with Crestron PinPoint enabled systems.

Proprietary can have its advantages in both reliability and support, but it’s drawback is that in order for a truly ambient user experience to be created, you would need 100 percent participation. Or you need a common standard that multiple manufacturers use. We can safely say that in AV manufacturers have traditionally built systems in proprietary ways that protect market share and prohibit cross pollination. Standards are not something that have been readily embraced.

Given all this, and some other popular pieces written lately both about code and industry practices on the whole, I’d say that proprietary is at least in AV, the enemy of ubiquitous.

IoT devices are available all over the place and for businesses and organizations, hardware or vendors that fail to address security concerns will never make the cut.  In that way, neither the device mesh nor basic security implementation will be value added differentiators. However, the UX is something that can set systems apart, especially if that UX is one that seamlessly bridges devices, platforms, and locations.  In other words…it is ambient.

As many have stated, the App is already dead. We need to get beyond the square icon, unilateral, launch-and-switch applications on our current devices if we want to stay relevant.

Who is working on the Ambient User Experience in AV today? If you can find the answer to that question, I would make sure to visit them at INfoComm16, as they may be the partner you need to propel your company into the future in a valuable way.

Who do you think is poised to revolutionize the UX?  I’d love to hear your take in the comments.