Developers are more than aware that the path from an idea scribbled on a napkin to a functional, scalable product let alone a prototype isn’t exactly a question of well-mapped steps. They’re journeys. Complex ones. Prototypes and deployments can tank even while employing straightforward technologies and support from open source communities. Now, particularly in a new technical ecosystem like the Internet of Things, in which there are more questions than answers, you're bound to face a few hiccups.
Now, if you're done with the ideation process and eager to start working on your product, understand this, whether your ideation was on a piece of napkin, or through a detailed PDS or product design specification, jumping head first into building a market-ready product is risky. The unknowns are plenty. You may have done your research and are armed with some well-educated guesses, but a wrong guess with IoT hardware is a lot more costly than guessing incorrectly in software development. Primarily because of the long time and money required to recompile electronics. The solution is to prototype strategically so you can start testing some of these assumptions before expending the upfront costs of production. But remember, capital or time, often disallow you to remain in prototype-land for long. So the decisions you make before you begin prototype development will decide whether the prototyping process will be painless, fast, and yield the information you are looking for, or whether the process will take more than six months and leave you frustrated.
What is the key challenge here?
The skillset needed to build an interconnected program for a hardware device is quite different from the skillset needed to develop and maintain a web application or server, and vice versa. Leaving a skilled software engineer floundering when it comes to developing a schematic for a hardware prototype, and an electrical engineer with a bad headache while confronted with developing an industry standard mobile application to control a device.
The goals you set will define the overall scope of the prototype. Next, figure out what the primary constraint for the prototype is, then focus on the secondary constraint, and then the non-issues. This will give you more clarity on how to approach the prototyping process. Once you have defined the goals and constraints for your prototype, the last planning stage is to boil the prototype down to its functional pieces. This will provide clarity in selecting the right tools and hardware for the prototype.
The different stages of IoT prototyping:
If you’re ready to work on the IoT prototyping path, here are some tips to help you through the different stages:
1. Begin with the toughest problem. It’s vital to hone in on your product’s riskiest assumptions when prototyping your IoT product. For instance, if your biggest worry is how you’ll get mobile devices to speak with your product, that’s the task your first prototype should be focusing on. This will force you to make major product decisions upfront rather than months into the development cycle. At this point, you’ve probably spent tens of thousands developing a faulty product.
2. It’s time to start building once you’ve decided which problems your prototype will address. That means deciding on which technologies you’ll use to build the product, and this is a big decision. Do keep in mind that this will require some experimentation. You’ll likely research, develop, and end up throw away code during the process. It will seem like hitting your head against a wall, but channel that inner Tesla. And remind yourself that not failing, you’re discovering what technologies won’t work for your product. But go through it all, try and use basic components for your prototype. You can always upgrade later.
3. Once you’ve figured out what problems you want to solve and which technologies you'll use to solve them, it’s time to start building. This will prove to be the most exciting stage of the entire prototyping process. Start building early, and power through the hiccups. Use this prototyping stage to architect a way to bring your costs down in the long-term.
4. Now that you have your IoT prototype up and running, get ready to iron out the remaining issues. The bugs could be software-related, as in unstable code or broken features, or they could be hardware-related, be it a flickering screen or a weak connection point. This stage of prototyping, which is typically seen as the last 20 percent, often ends up housing 80 percent of the struggle in product development.
It's always exciting watching a product come together. But as the deadlines loom and unforeseen fiascos crop up, you are bound to feel frustrated. Some features take longer than expected to develop, user interfaces require tweaking, and the hardware needs polishing. If you've reached the troubleshooting stage and are frustrated, don’t settle. You’ve made it this far and your working prototype is right around the corner.
IoT growth today is driven by the declining price of public APIs, sensors, and the evident advantages of using connected solutions for business purposes. Even so, the process of building IoT hardware and software is riddled with certain challenges like project delays, technology limitations, and cost overruns. But you see, it's all worth it in the end. After all, the product you’re building is at the cutting edge of technology, one major brands like SAP and Microsoft are working on themselves. Get prototyping now to join the race.