The Connectivity Spectrum: How the Type of Product You Manufacture Impacts the Relationship You Create with the Consumer

All consumer electronics connected products are not created equal. In fact, each device can be placed on a spectrum that, for simplicity reasons, can be divided largely into one of five categories: Pure Digital, Digital First, Dual Use, Physical First and Pure Device. We’ll get into what each of these terms mean in a moment, but to understand this segmentation of product category and its implications, you should first acknowledge that in the “pre-connected” world, consumer electronics products had only physical interfaces with every device offering its particular set of buttons and levers. In the connected age of products, a digital interface is added in the form of a mobile app, a web app or voice skill for Alexa or Google Home (or any combination of the three). The consumer electronics connected product spectrum places each product according to the balance of physical to digital use of that product by its end users.
The type of device you manufacture impacts the end users relationship with it, and the type of consumer experience you can create through them.
The spectrum ranges from products that do not have a digital interface at all to those who can only be used through their digital interfaces:
  • Pure Digital — The device can only be operated through digital (app & voice), and cannot be operated at all through the physical device. Many wearable devices fall into this category, although they can also be found in devices designed to be placed in hard to reach locations.
  • Digital First — The device is expected to be operated through a digital interface, but limited occasional use can be done on the physical device interface directly. Often time the actual on / off switches are physical and the rest is digital. It is typical for devices that are used for extended periods of time, like air purifiers.
  • Dual Use — This category can come in two flavors. First is when the complete functionality should be available on both physical and digital, with the choice of operation being personal and dependent on the situation. The second is a wide array of functionality with little to no overlap, meaning frequent and important use can be made on the digital interface, and different but still important and frequent use can be done on the physical device. An advanced electric scooter is a good example here. Basic operation is physical levers yet locking and unlocking actual range on map and relative to target/home can only be digital.
  • Physical First — Devices in this category are expected to be largely operated through the physical interface, with limited functionality on the digital. The digital part usually includes onboarding and setup as well as setting changes when required maintenance action or infrequent many time complicated action. A good example here may be a connected shoe. You wear it every day and it functions as a shoe should, but you can refer activity reports on the digital interface.
  • Pure Device — These devices can only be operated with the physical interface and have no digital interface at all. Limited interaction based on email can be achieved if the actual registration is handled separately and independently.
Bearing in mind that a minimum end user value is a prerequisite to any interface physical or digital the expected balance of digital to physical will dictate the digital product definition and specs, including the ensuing communication and relationship building between manufacturer and end user.
It is worthwhile starting with this question of where a particular device falls on the spectrum because this definition will go to the heart of the overall user experience you aim to deliver. Once it is determined, you can answer needs and requirements through technology, budget permitting.
Once defined, it will also serve to layout the connectivity scheme. Whether the device itself can rely on a mobile app as a gateway to the cloud or needs a direct connection through WiFi or SIM, or both.