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Episode 19:A Smart Approach for Doing Firmware Right

Alan-Vardon

With Alan Vardon

Director - Smart Home Division at Globe Electric

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Nobody gets firmware right the first time. It’s a hard truth in the IoT space.

Many developers of smart products trip up at this step in their journey.

It’s not just the initial development that’s difficult. As the product evolves, you need to constantly improve the experience—without breaking things in the process.

Alan Vardon, Director - Smart Home Division at Globe Electric, is well-versed in the trials and tribulations of firmware development, and he has learned a few lessons along the way.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Transitioning an established company to the smart home space
  • The importance of initial and continuous testing with firmware
  • The challenges of working with firmware

This post is based on a podcast episode with Alan Vardon, Director - Smart Home Division at Globe Electric. To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to Over the Air wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Transitioning an Established Company to the Smart Home Space

Innovation is tough when your business is nearly 100 years old. Breaking decades of tradition and adapting for the smart economy is actually harder, compared with starting from scratch because you have to contend with legacy products and systems.

Domain authority, in this case predominantly light fittings and fixtures, helps a lot, but there are some other factors that helped Alan’s team during their transition:

  • They did their research before the ‘big change’
  • They keenly observed what was happening at leading trade shows and expositions (noticing the emergence of smart home systems and accessories)
  • The timing was key — not too early or too late
  • They clearly defined their tech partner requirements
  • The decision to move into smart was taken seriously by every team member

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The Importance of Initial and Continuous Testing with Firmware

It’s no longer enough to bet the success of a product on one roll of the dice.

Smart products depend on customer feedback for iteration and ongoing refinement. It's part of a constant effort to be relevant to customer needs.

Lessons in Launching Firmware

From Alan, to you:

  • Being first to market or close to it is important
  • You can’t launch and leave
  • Things break (especially while you fix other things)
  • Test everything regularly
  • One successful test doesn’t mean that other tests will receive the same results
  • Make it as simple as possible for the average customer to buy and use
  • Be willing to admit when something is broken and then fix it

From the outset, you must understand that firmware is about your customer’s experience.

No matter how advanced or appealing your features and functions are if a customer doesn’t find it easy or enjoyable to use, there’s no point in launching at all.

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The Challenges of Working with Firmware

Updates are one of the trickier aspects to manage when working with firmware. It’s one of the most compelling reasons to apply continual testing.

Of course, you also learn from each setback — or at least you should.

Another challenge is what tends to lie beneath the surface: Oftentimes what seems simple is rather complex when you start developing functions.

Globe Electric’s floodcam (floodlight combined with a camera) offers a good example of that. Alan’s team was stuck in a debugging loop for a long time, trying to add one simple feature. Between the camera triggering the light to switch on at random times, or not working at all, they had a wide range of issues to solve in a shrinking time window after committing stock to a customer.

Although they eventually figured it out, it was one of the more stressful reminders not to assume that anything is simple when working with firmware (whether new releases or updates).

Key Takeaways

  • Timing is critical, especially when experiencing a high-magnitude change.
  • Do your homework, identify the gaps, and then go all in.
  • Firmware is hard and critically important to success.
  • There’s no substitute for experience.

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