Where Does Your Smart Product Sit?

Designing for the Internet of Things

Alasdair Allan
14 min readFeb 25, 2019


This is the first article in a series of six on designing connected devices, the next article in the series is “Starting With One” and covers prototyping. Links to all six articles can be found in the series overview.

Forty years ago two men named Steve built a business out of hardware that went on to be the most valuable company the world has ever seen.

Time passed, and technology became more complicated, so much more complicated that it became much harder to do that. But that’s beginning to change again, the dot com revolution happened because, for a few thousand or even just a few hundred dollars, anyone could have an idea and build a software startup.

Today for the same money you can build a business selling things, actual goods, and the secret there is that you don’t have to train a whole generation of people into realising that physical objects are worth money the same way people had to be trained to realise that software was worth money.

Steve Jobs (left) and Steve Wozniak (right) with the Apple 1 (📷: Apple)

But everything begins with how your users will interact with your device, and how it will interact with both them and the network. In other words, where your product will sit in the hierarchy of connected devices.

Local, Edge, or Cloud?

In general connected devices can be roughly split into three broad categories; local devices, edge devices, and finally, the cloud connected devices.

Local devices don’t have the capability to reach the Internet, but they are still connected in a network. This network usually isn’t TCP/IP based, for instance both Zigbee and Bluetooth LE devices are good examples of network connected things that operate locally rather than directly connected to the Internet, and illustrate the two types of local networking. In the case of Zigbee the device operates in a mesh, or peer-to-peer, mode with packets hoping between devices until they reach the edge of the local network. In the case of Bluetooth LE the device operates in a broadcast, or paired mode, with messages being picked up directly by a device on the edge of the network.

Edge devices are exactly as you’d expect, typically they have multiple radios, and operate in both…