IoT Hardware Development: What’s Different Now?

Optimizing the Internet of Things (IoT) hardware development process is integral to making your vision for a product a reality. An efficient development process leads to quicker Time to Market (TTM) and more realistic product design prototypes to test. Due to the introduction of newer connectivity technologies in recent years, IoT solution developers have felt the pressure to make several adjustments in their development processes. This is a rapidly evolving technology space, with different suppliers, components, and elements involved. It’s worth discussing the following trends in IoT development:

  • How IoT hardware development has changed in recent years.
  • What role do development kits play?
  • IoT developer challenges that vendors must factor in when targeting this growing market.

How the IoT Hardware Development Landscape Has Changed

IoT hardware development used to be a time-consuming and exorbitant process for manufacturers. These were the days when efficient development tools were not available, resulting in a sort of trial-and-error attempt at developing robust IoT products. If your company had ambitions to create a new product, you’d need to hire new employees with specialist software/hardware development.  

This all changed with the advent of IoT hardware development kits. IoT development kits let developers leverage readily available radios, sensors, and microprocessors for developing the hardware components of new IoT solutions and applications. What’s more, other development resources, such as toolboxes from hardware vendors, application building tools, and large developer communities, also ease the IoT development process.

The changing IoT development landscape has given rise to an increase in the number of hardware development kits on offer from manufacturers, as well as an expansion in the features and software capabilities within their development portfolios. This sweeping expansion has been necessary for IoT device manufacturers to keep pace with the growing diversity of application needs that IoT developers have. Out of the drive to outcompete the rest of the market, IoT companies are moving fast to meet even the most niche markets.

As IoT hardware development demands become more robust, one-stop offerings are seen as highly beneficial for businesses. In this scenario, the client doesn’t have to worry about Research & Development (R&D) for the IoT or implementing the solution. For companies that lack adequate IoT competencies, their only responsibility is to identify their end-market needs and communicate those pain points to the IoT vendors. In other words, a one-stop IoT solution eradicates the need for companies to hire a new development team, saving significant time and money.

Evolution of IoT Hardware Development Kits

IoT hardware development kits are pieces of equipment that enable developers to create a Proof of Concept (POC) and develop the hardware elements required for applications for the IoT. Development kits for the IoT were originally more complex, particularly when developing software for the device. But one of the most striking differences between legacy IoT development kits and modern IoT kits is their sizes. Legacy IoT development kits were bulkier, which translated to inauthentic reflections (in the form of POCs) of what an IoT product would look like in the real world. As a result, developers have a more difficult time presenting their finalized products to stakeholders.

Today, developers can use IoT hardware development kits with smaller sizes, lower costs, more functionality, and improved performance. This helps them create device POCs more accurately aligned with the finished product. There’s also a wide range of kits and connectivity technologies at developers’ disposal.

At one point in time, hardware development kits were deemed the genesis of IoT development because of their streamlining capabilities. Although that notion has faded within the IoT ecosystem—with the development kit business case even being questioned—the proliferation of new IoT development kit types continues. From semiconductor vendors to module providers, many ecosystem players are focused on bundled IoT solutions that make the development process easier for product developers. Bundled offerings include elements like microprocessors and microcontrollers, coupled with additional software layers.

Challenges That Vendors Should Be Aware Of

As IoT development ecosystem vendors design and market their products/solutions, they must be wary of the following challenges facing developers in the IoT space:

  • Too Many Options: With so many manufacturers offering sensors and microprocessors, enterprises with little to no IoT hardware knowledge can quickly feel overwhelmed. This will cause hesitation in making a development kit purchasing decision.
  • Build versus Buy: Some customers might want to build their own IoT prototypes due to specific product requirements (e.g., battery life, device size, form factor, or sensor capabilities). But this can be a lengthy development/design process. If the IoT product's Time to Market (TTM) is of utmost importance, customers may choose an off-the-shelf hardware solution.
  • Software Complexity: The growing complexity causing challenges for both developers and those within the ecosystem comes from the software, not from the hardware element of the IoT application development process.
  • IoT Security: Security is another growing complexity for IoT solution and application developers. Standards are continuously changing, which creates complexity when developing new hardware products that must be up to spec.
  • Vendor Lock-in: Companies frequently need components from various suppliers in order to develop their IoT products. Developers fear that vendor lock-in will hinder their ability to be flexible and adaptive when providing customized end products.

If vendors can address these challenges, their IoT development hardware will be seen as an attractive option for companies. From there, expanding market share will be a little bit easier.

This content comes from ABI Research’s IoT Hardware Development Kits report, which is part of the company’s IoT Hardware & Devices Research Service.

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