Sam O’Meara, UK Director of Applause, discusses the future of the IoT market and offers advice to start-ups and scale-ups looking to take an early lead

VHS vs Betamax. Android vs Apple. Whenever a new technology starts to become ubiquitous, there is always a battle for supremacy, especially between technology giants.

As the Internet of Things emerges as “the next big thing”, there’s a lot at stake in the race to market leadership. Today, it’s still unclear whether an elite few will come out on top and dominate market share, or if IoT vendors’ emphasis on open source gives smaller startups real opportunities to thrive.

A recent Bain report shows that executives are struggling to determine where or how to invest in the IoT. This is in part because the IoT market is a fragmented one, consisting of device makers, software providers, and operating systems all vying to be the industry leader in their respective fields.

in the #IoT arms race, there’s more to the industry than #Alexa and #CortanaClick To Tweet

The usual suspects – Google, Amazon and Microsoft – seem to be leading the way early on in the IoT arms race – but there’s more to the industry than Alexa and Cortana. By looking beyond smart assistants, smaller players like Ring and VersaMe have taken advantage of applying IoT to safety and education, respectively. As the market for IoT technology heats up, it’s very likely that a window of opportunity will open for small, innovative companies to compete with the big players and gain market traction.

How can smaller startups seize this burgeoning opportunity to make their mark in the IoT space? Here are four practical tips.

  1. Keep your vision broad, but your MVP narrow

The success (or failure) of an IoT product will hinge on its product quality.

When you’re in the early stages of developing any product, defining your minimum viable product (MVP) is essential – in the case of an emerging market like IoT, you need to build it to an even higher standard. IoT products have to work in ways that other products don’t, and they have to work better than traditional methods to give consumers a reason to change their typical way of doing things.

When defining your MVP, focus on the cost-effective features that are most important to implement without being impossible. Keeping features at a minimum will also provide flexibility and the ability to pivot on your idea.

Defining your MVP requires you to really focus on identifying your primary target audience by demographic, region and affordability. Run marketing campaigns targeting these segments only – the more focused you can be, the better.

  1. Focus on the end-user

If a consumer has to ask a virtual assistant the same question multiple times before they get an answer, why would they ask the assistant again when they could just type the question into Google? Scenarios like this can be avoided through functional testing on a large scale to reveal any product issues beforehand and ensure that quality is never an afterthought.

There’s a whole range of bugs that can negatively impact the user experience, and any glitches to the user experience will make a consumer think twice about using IoT devices or may turn them off from the category altogether.

And it’s not just software bugs in the traditional sense. While all brands test to check their devices are functionally working, not everyone has the user experience front of mind. Not only are users wide-ranging and unpredictable in their habits, they have varying expectations for product design. This is where testing your device on a large scale – in different regions and scenarios and on multiple devices – can give you a huge advantage.

  1. Prioritise security

Studies show that 90% of consumers lack confidence in the security of IoT devices, while the media has so far blamed the IoT for attacks on big and apparently stable companies like Amazon, Twitter and Spotify. It’s clear the fear is very real.

Security requirements are particularly high when developing IoT devices and applications as they often carry highly sensitive data. Protecting customer information needs to be a top priority for any IoT startup, so it’s important to integrate safety features into the design when developing products.

The best way to counter security fears is of course by making sure products are tried, tested and proofed, making sure there are no bugs that cyber-criminals can exploit. You can fix security issues through stringent testing in order to gain and maintain customer trust. Otherwise, you risk losing customers’ business in the short term and in the long term.

  1. Understand the ecosystem within platforms

Ecosystems will play a huge role within the IoT. IoT devices are connected to one another as well as to the outside world, so experiences are never stationary. They’re part of an ecosystem within a variety of platforms.

IoT players should know that they don’t have to go and create an entirely new platform by themselves. They need to use the ecosystem already in place to their advantage. Perfect the ecosystem experience to perfect the customer experience.

As the IoT arms race builds to a fever pitch, smaller companies can get ahead

In essence, what consumers want from connected devices isn’t much different from what they want from any new entrant to the tech market: user-friendliness, unshakeable security and excellent quality. As the IoT arms race builds to a fever pitch, smaller companies can get ahead – by promoting security, quality and ensuring they put customers at the centre of design.