Dr Antonella Mazzoni is Chirp's specialist in usability and user experience.

What a wonderful thing to be able to connect all your appliances and personal electronic devices! The Internet of Things (IoT) is bringing our homes and workplaces to life, but why is it that setting up a smart device still doesn't provide a smart user experience?

It’s no news that customer satisfaction impacts Return on Investment (ROI) (Graefe et al., 2003). From a user's perspective, connecting your devices for the first time and configuring them to communicate with each other can be cumbersome and frustrating. Even if a product is amongst the most efficient, a customer is more likely to return it and try other solutions if their first experience with it (such as the initial setup and pairing) turns out to be frustrating.

Achieving seamless device-to-device communication is a must for the success of the IoT (Bello and Zeadally, 2016), but a positive User Experience (UX) is vital too. A study demonstrated that users who reported a positive UX also reported lower mental workload and higher Willingness to Pay (WTP) for a product, highlighting that the usability of a system is a strong determination of success for a product or service (Fedele et al., 2017). If a system or product doesn’t conform with the fundamental design principles then usability problems might arise, such as loss of control and orientation, accidentally triggered actions and, inevitably, user frustration (Faliagka et al., 2015).

"Even if a product is amongst the most efficient, a customer is more likely to return it and try other solutions if their first experience with it (such as the initial setup and pairing) turns out to be frustrating."

There’s been a lot of effort recently in enhancing UX within IoT, making use of the sensors embedded within smart devices to reduce user effort. At Chirp, we've been focusing on exactly this problem space. Chirp technology leverages the capabilities of sound to make it easy for you to connect your IoT devices. Rather than having to authenticate each of your devices by manually typing lengthy alphanumeric passwords, Chirp generates a code and safely communicates it to your smart devices through audio signals. Sensors within your IoT device pick up the chirp message – and voilà, your devices are connected.

Measuring the improvement of Chirp on IoT UX

We wanted to go beyond making general claims about the efficiency improvements offered by data-over-sound, and so have measured the real-world impact in a series of user studies.

In our study, 7 participants were asked to connect an IoT device to a Wi-Fi network via three methods:

  • the traditional "manual" setup process, in which the user:
    1. puts the smart device in setup mode, creating a temporary Wi-Fi hotspot on the device
    2. uses a computer to set up the connection
    3. selects the Wi-Fi network
    4. opens the internet browser and enters the IP address of the smart device
    5. manually enters the Wi-Fi credentials to connect the smart device to the network;
  • via a web interface with integrated Chirp technology, in which users:
    1. put the smart device in setup mode to create a temporary Wi-Fi hotspot (similarly to the manual setup)
    2. use a Chirp-enabled web interface to establish the connection
    3. manually enters the Wi-Fi credentials that are then communicated to the smart device via an audible chirp;
  • and via a Chirp-equipped mobile provisioning app, which requires users:
    1. to put the smart device in setup mode
    2. open a Chirp-enabled companion app
    3. tap a button to transmit the Wi-Fi credentials to the smart device via a chirp, and connect it to the network.
Traditional "manual" setup process
Connecting via a Chirp-equipped mobile provisioning app

Our study gave three key findings.

1. Chirp reduces device provisioning time

Participants found connecting the device to the Wi-Fi network using Chirp easier, less fiddly, and faster than the regular manual setup.

  • Traditional "manual" setup: average completion time was 131 seconds.
  • Web interface with Chirp technology: average completion time  66 seconds.
  • Chirp-equipped mobile provisioning app: average completion time 19 seconds.
Time taken to provision a smart device with each method

The time required by a user to provision a smart device was significantly reduced when using Chirp-enabled methods. Compared to the manual setup, the Chirp-integrated web interface took users half the time to complete the task, and the Chirp-equipped mobile app took them only 19 seconds  – an 86% reduction in provisioning time.

2. Chirp reduces the variance between setup times

As shown in the graph above, a secondary impact of the Chirp-based solutions is that they significantly reduce the variance between provisioning times that users experienced. Put simply, provisioning via Chirp is not just faster, but more consistent also.

This helps to level the playing field between novice and experienced users. With Chirp, even somebody with zero experience of IoT can set up a smart device quickly, boosting their confidence in the field.

3. Chirp reduces the number of user errors

The Chirp-based methods require fewer steps than the manual approaches, and there is less scope for human error – for example, pressing the wrong button, or failing to connect to the device.

  • Manual provisioning: 3 out of 7 users experienced errors
  • Web interface with Chirp: 1 out of 7 users experienced errors
  • Mobile app with Chirp: no users experienced errors

Errors are a frustrating part of interacting with technology that can negatively reflect on your brand and the general experience of the product.

Conclusion

We presented a user study in this post that was designed to test the UX of connecting a smart device to a Wi-Fi network via the traditional setup, a Chirp-enabled web interface, and a Chirp-enabled companion app.

We found Chirp-enabled methods assisted users in achieving their goal in a shorter time (86% faster) and with minimal or no user error compared to the traditional manual setup. All our participants reported their preference for the Chirp-enabled methods as less fiddly and much easier to follow.

Let’s not forget that customers rarely read instruction manuals. It’s vital, therefore, to create a seamless user experience that easily guide users into setting up their smart devices. Chirp can help make your home and workplace smarter, in a truly smart and friction-free way.

References

Bello, O., & Zeadally, S. (2016). Intelligent device-to-device communication in the internet of things. IEEE Systems Journal, 10(3), 1172-1182.

Faliagka, E., Rigou, M., & Sirmakessis, S. (2015). A usability study of iPhone built-in applications. Behaviour & Information Technology, 34(8), 799-808.

Fedele, G., Fedriga, M., Zanuso, S., Mastrangelo, S., & Di Nocera, F. (2017). Can User Experience affect buying intention? A case study on the evaluation of exercise equipment. Human Factors & Ergonomics Society.

Graefe, T. M., Keenan, S. L., & Bowen, K. C. (2003, April). Meeting the challenge of measuring return on investment for user centered development. In CHI'03 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 860-861). ACM.