Mobilize 2010: Don’t Build Devices, Build Service Avatars


Entrepreneur and author Mike Kuniavsky is promoting the use of “Service Avatars” to heighten the user experience for web-connected devices. Kuniavsky is the CEO of ThingM, and the author of the recently released book “Smart Things.” Service Avatars combine simple devices designed for narrowly defined purposes and services that make the best use of information captured from those devices.

Kuniavsky’s Service Avatar system is evolving in part due to Moore’s Law. As components get more powerful, cheaper and smaller, he believes that simple components designed to do specific tasks should be embedded in “appliances” that talk to the service in the cloud.

Kuniavsky gave an example of such a Service Avatar in use today: prescription pill bottles with electronic caps that remind patients when it’s time to take a pill, then automatically keeps track of when it’s taken. The caps shoot that information to a cloud service, where doctors can chart the medications a patient takes, pharmacies can note when it is time to renew a prescription medication, and, in the event of an emergency, medical staff can access what medications a patient is currently taking.

Connected devices, serving a wide variety of purposes, are becoming available. Kuniavsky believes they are so much better at providing a useful user experience that we might not need full computers at all. While there are certainly specific cases that can be made for smart appliances coupled with a good cloud service, it may be a hard sell to convince others to stop making apps, devices and platforms. Concentrating effort into making smart services paired with narrowly focused devices may be a risky path to take.

Related research from GigaOM PRO (subscription required):



I sort of doubt that we’ll see talking pill bottles, I do believe that we will have pill bottles that make themselves apparent to aware devices and services. Although, my role is to look at pharmacy products, I am independently looking at service systems that accomplish such tasks. This has been an extension of similar “research” from twenty years ago in design school.

It is both amazing and frightening that it has taken 20 years! But, the next decade will be fascinating!

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