What Components Make a Product ‘Smart’?

Smart devices have been out there for a while and they’re becoming more common by the day. Not just phones, but televisions, watches, key chains, even smart houses – everything is given some level of ‘intelligence’ by technology product design today.

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Generally, a smart device is one that connects wirelessly to the internet by some means or another. Access to such a wide range of knowledge gives the device the ability to respond interactively in a wider range than ever before. Smart technology is not necessary confined to internet-capable devices, but it does comprise the vast majority of consumer products in that category.

What Does Not Make a Product Smart?

It’s easiest to start a definition of what makes a smart device by determining what does not. A single-use device is generally not a smart device, no matter how many features it might have. For instance, most refrigerators, even those that tell you when you’re low on ice, are not generally considered smart devices. Those appliances that link you to a shopping list or have cameras inside so you can determine what’s inside the fridge while you’re out shopping might come close, but any information provided is provided by the user. It won’t tell you when you need to get more eggs or milk – you have to determine that for yourself.

This narrowness of capacity means it also cannot adapt to your needs. Anything that’s static in this regard is not smart technology, no matter how intuitive or useful it might otherwise be. You might be able to program a specific device to your specifications, but many smart devices, like phones, tablets, or watches, can often ‘learn’ your preferences through use, allowing it to adapt to the specific way you use the device.

Ubiquitous Computing

In 1988, Mark Weiser, a scientist for Xerox PARC, coined the term “ubiquitous computing”. He foresaw a time in the 21st century where the computing would be found anywhere and everywhere. Computers would assist us in all manner of ways, but they would do so unobtrusively, allowing you to operate them in an intuitive fashion.

Weiser imagined three types of ubiquitous devices (smart devices): tabs, pads, and boards, well before the modern proliferation of smart devices. Tabs are wearable devices, such as a smart watch or Google glass. Pads are handheld devices, like smart phones, phablets, or tablets. Boards would be larger devices, like the smart tables developed by Microsoft, but desktop computers with touch screens and audio interfaces can also qualify, with the right operating systems – especially if it’s linked to other systems in the home or facility.

We’ve achieved everything Weiser envisioned and beyond – computers are everywhere and in everything, which has led to the direct rise of smart devices.
Smart Components
When a customer buys a modern smart phone today, it is their phone. It can recognize its user by voice, by fingerprint, sometimes even by physical appearance. This capacity makes it ‘smarter’, because it ‘knows’ its owner and anyone else who wishes to access it has to have it opened by its proper user first. Personalization is one of the facets of a smart device, though it is not necessary one.

A smart TV can learn what you like to watch, make suggestions for things you might like to watch in the future, access the internet, adjust the sound and picture to your specifications, and otherwise customize itself to your needs, simply by recording and analyzing your watching patterns. Of course, you can also tailor things by vocal or touch interface, as well. This is an example of smart technology that is not portable, but its ability to learn and access knowledge makes it very much a smart device.

Easy expansion is often another component to look for. For instance, when you plug your Bluetooth headphones into your smart phone, chances are good it will recognize the device, set it up for you, and allow you to use the headphones within seconds. This ‘plug and play’ capacity is certainly available in many devices that would not qualify as smart, but only a smart device can handle a wide array of additions without much input from the user. Sometimes adding a new component to a desktop computer requires knowledge of software and hardware, and perhaps some installation media you need to supply data to run. Plug and play, on the other hand, means just what it says.

Many smart devices can also work together, each making the other more useful. Smart watches, or increasingly popular fitness bands worn on the wrist, are directly linked to a smartphone, computer, or tablet via Bluetooth and/or the internet. Linked technology such as this is what makes a smart environment possible. Enhanced interactivity, both between devices, and between device and user, are another hallmark of a smart device.

We may not yet have a truly ‘intelligent’ device, but many smart devices are blurring the distinction more and more by the day.


Laura O’Donnell writes smart content on behalf of the product development experts at Pivot International. As an avid writer and learner, she loves to use her skills for engaging others in important topics in creative and effective ways. When she is not working, she loves meeting new people, traveling, and bringing her Pinterest dreams to life. Find her on LinkedIn.

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