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3 ways IoT developers can tackle a changing design landscape

Supply chain interruptions, chip shortages and new networking protocols make IoT product design an ever-evolving process. Here's how developers can address these challenges.

IoT developers face a complicated device landscape. Supply chain delays continue to affect development and are bringing about lasting consequences. The majority of manufacturers report semiconductor delays limit their ability to deliver new products, and nearly one-third of those report the delays are seven months or more.

Juxtapose these figures with ever-increasing consumer demand for IoT products -- and consumer expectations of how those products work -- and there are clearly some huge challenges for IoT developers right now.

Consumers expect IoT devices to deliver valuable features, a simple and intuitive UI, and seamless integrations with other devices and software, as well as regular updates to maintain thorough security and functionality. IoT devices can't just work. They must work well and work flawlessly all the time; there's too much market competition for consumers to accept anything less.

Adaptability is necessary for IoT designers and developers to get in front of these trends, with the most critical being changing connectivity standards, hardware flexibility and device security.

Plan now for future cellular connectivity

4G took off after mobile video became the driving use case behind it. And, though an equivalent killer use case is still being identified for 5G, it's simply a matter of time. Carriers' focus on midband spectrum has increased due to its speed and range; simultaneously, a record number of midband spectrum licenses were issued in the past year.

Hardware development has kept up with innovations that address expanded capacity of modules, such as Nordic Semiconductor's nRF91 series. As a result, 5G connectivity and consistent improvement in parts and compute are converging to enable not just one critical use case, but a wide array of new edge use cases that savvy IoT developers can debut.

Flexibility is critical for both developers and OEMs

Fortune is said to favor the bold, but IoT developers will be rewarded for flexibility. There's little indication the chip shortage will significantly abate soon. Intel may build its own chip factory, but it won't be operational until 2024.

In response, design teams and manufacturers must reevaluate the design and production cycle, just as Ford and Tesla have rewritten firmware to adjust for chip shortages. IoT devices designed with flexible firmware that includes a strong hardware abstraction layer should adapt well. On the other side, those without flexible firmware may find it complicated to navigate the redesign process -- but it is still a better alternative than waiting out chipset availability.

Don't ignore device security

IoT device penetration across consumer, business and industrial sectors means data loss isn't limited to the number of daily steps users take or their favorite playlist. Connected health, industrial and financial systems require disclosure of a good deal of personally identifiable information and highly sensitive data.

The importance of connected applications and devices means secure connectivity is critical. As data breaches and hacks have grown in risk and cost, consumer and legislative demands for stronger IoT regulation are accelerating faster than the industry is responding.

President Joe Biden's 2021 Executive Order on Improving the Nation's Cybersecurity mandates a future guide for best practices that include IoT component labeling, data protection and feature updates. The order's guidance helps IoT manufacturers and developers preemptively lean into device security. Some basic product security should include product tamper detection, a plan and process for regular updates, and cryptographic identity for devices.

Looking forward in IoT development

Change and iteration are central to successful IoT development, and the rapid growth of connected devices has resulted from the successful imagination of developers. Just 10 years ago, Gartner identified IoT as an "on the rise" technology, while current estimates suggest that the current 12.3 billion IoT devices will grow to over 27 billion connected devices by 2025.

As a result, companies that build for IoT face both unprecedented uncertainty and opportunity. By designing with cellular connectivity, flexibility and security in mind, IoT device makers and developers can build and deliver a premium product to users, despite expected supply chain disturbances.

François Baldassari is founder and CEO of Memfault, a connected device observability platform provider.

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