Hundreds of years ago, Leonardo da Vinci coined a phrase that has stuck with me for my entire career: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
We live in an age of unprecedented technological complexity. Consumers have dozens of connected devices, and industry experts predict that number will increase to 50 for the average household by 2020. Adding a further layer of complexity are the numerous ecosystems and operating systems that come into place. Your computers, mobile devices, television—even your kitchen appliances—all operate differently and require different controls.
This intricacy makes it more important for technology manufacturers to streamline connectivity and make devices easy and fun to use. The future of technology won’t be in the tonnage of devices or breadth of connectivity. It will be in the simplicity technology brings people’s lives.
At Comcast, we are fanatical about giving customers the best product possible. And that’s all about simplification. To us, this means making products that you can open, set up quickly, and use intuitively. That’s how we built Xfinity. We like to say that you should be able to unbox your video device and watch TV in two minutes.
Three keys to designing smart devices
Because of this, products need to be developed with clarity and elegance in mind. When it comes to designing smart devices, three things matter.
The first is interaction. Products that are simple and intuitive allow customers to interact without hassles or obstacles. You use them, they work, and you move on. This is why voice control has become so popular.
Number two is reliability. Devices can’t be finicky, insecure, or unreliable. Once a product is set up, it just has to work.
Finally, connectivity matters. Smart devices have to connect and be easily accessible on your personal network. Every smart device company out there touts their straightforward experience. But they’ve all got their own ways to onboard their devices and their own apps to manage them. It might be easy to use the 20 different apps that control the 20 different devices in your home. But it isn’t simple. Our job is to seamlessly integrate all of your devices and services into one interface and give you all the power you need to control it.
Technology and future of the home
Connected home devices like speakers, doorbells, security systems, and home appliances, which were once mainly used by early adopters, are now trickling down to all parts of the population. These devices rely on varying degrees of internet connectivity. Add on your home computer, tablet and smartphone, and you’ve got an incredibly complex smart device ecosystem.
But the sheer ubiquity and number of devices involved in this ecosystem can be difficult for users to—quite literally—get a handle on.
This can be really frustrating. No one should have to feel like the Chief Information Officer of their own home, learning how to set up and integrate their new technology. That’s wasted time. Instead, we could have a world of simplicity where you control all your smart devices on one screen and technology just works.
If you think about it, what’s happening today with innovation in IoT is really similar to the explosion of video content that we’ve all seen over the past five years or so. Our solution then was X1, a video platform that aggregates and integrates all of the content you love in one simple and personal interface. And you don’t have to dig through it—you ask your voice remote for what you want, and you see it.
That’s why we created xFi for the connected home. It’s a digital dashboard to help you manage all of your connected devices, including when and how they go online, as well as the quality of the connection throughout your home. With xFi, you can create a routine so that all your devices work together when you need them the most. For example, after a long day, say “Goodnight Xfinity” into the voice remote and we take care of the rest. The doors lock, the TV turns off, the lights go down, the temperature changes, and you’re ready for bed.
To help make that possible, we’ve partnered with some incredible companies who share our commitment to reliability, industrial design, and innovating for the future of the connected home. Companies like Nest, Lutron, and August Home are all at the cutting edge of IoT technology. So we put them on our platform, fully integrated them into our experience, and made it all available right on the TV screen.
Meanwhile, as devices are created to solve more and more complex problems, the way products look is becoming as important as how they work. Designing for the home is a complicated art. Not only is it personal and unique to each homeowner, but the fact is that people don’t notice a product when it’s working. They notice a product when it breaks. Our approach to industrial design is the same as our approach to functionality—we create devices that blend into their surroundings without clamoring to be the center of attention.
Our days are full of transitional moments. You get up, go to work, come home, have dinner, and put your kids to bed. The details might differ from person to person, but they are universally important. The best products—and the ones that really resonate with people—are designed to weave into these important moments. In the end, it’s really about freeing you up to do everything but think about your technology.
Fraser Stirling is Comcast’s SVP of digital home, devices, and AI. At a recent Quartz event in New York, Design for a Smart World supported by Comcast, Stirling spoke about his biggest considerations when designing connected home devices and showed how Comcast technology is solving for—and anticipating—consumer needs.