The Impact of Using Over-the-Air Updates in Product Development

If you own an iPhone or tablet, you’ve likely grown accustomed to the occasional notifications that pop onto your screen, announcing a new software update is available. These wireless updates are designed to perform a number of upgrades – from enhancing security to delivering new features to fixing bugs. These types of over-the-air updates, often referred to as OTAU, are utilized across a myriad of different connected devices. 

As technology continues to advance, more devices are being built with embedded firmware. Similarly, hardware is moving closer towards more widespread adoption of the solution. In the near future, products will no longer rely on physical connectors and ports – instead, they will leverage the power of over-the-air updates.

The Evolution of Over-the-Air Use & Applications 

When wireless data emerged onto the scene decades ago, it opened the gateway for the development of over-the-air updates. Now that we live in an era where the Internet of things (IoT) is ubiquitous, OTAU usage has increased in popularity – serving as a pathway for manufacturers to digitally develop and upgrade product capabilities.

Before OTAU – and in the pre-internet days – products were updated in one of two ways: either through wired connections or by mailing products back to the manufacturer to subsequently dismantle and reprogram. 

Optimizing Product Security Using OTAU

In today’s digital world, both manufacturers and end-users benefit from wireless updates, as they allow for continuous refinement and enhancement of security measures on various devices. Gaps in coverage can be amended as coding errors are identified in real-time. 

With the modern consumer possessing a multitude of connected devices, the ability to layer in supplemental protection as flaws arise is critical for keeping personal data secure. For example, security researchers at Checkpoint Software discovered a flaw in a popular Philips Smarthome lightbulb. The findings showed that hackers could potentially install malicious firmware in the lightbulb, giving them access to a business or home’s entire network. Luckily, the hardware company was able to utilize an over-the-air update to patch the issue. 

Over-the-Air Updates Allow Manufacturers to Add Functionality

Whether a product is in development or already launched, OTAU furnishes companies with the capacity to seamlessly add new features and improve the functionality of a product at any given time. And, in an age where markets and technology are rapidly evolving, having this capability is essential for brand reputation and maintaining a competitive edge. Businesses must be vigilant when releasing over-the-air updates, however, as the smallest oversight can lead to massive revenue and customer loss. 

One smart lock company learned this lesson the hard way when an OTAU failure led to customers being locked out of their homes. Imagine weathering that backlash? The takeaway here is to properly vet and test your over-the-air updates before they launch. 

Over-the-Air Updates Impact Product Development

Development teams can strategically use over-the-air updates to bridge the gap between client feedback and the implementation of different product features. OTAU provides businesses with the means to evaluate and assess new features by releasing updates to select devices. By doing so, companies can collect feedback and implement changes before new features – or an entirely new product – is unveiled to the public. 

Developers will need to keep a few things in mind when building products capable of receiving OTAU. For instance, the product must have the power to not only detect new firmware versions, but to safely download, update and resume normal functioning as well. To do so, teams must examine how the hardware, firmware and network connection will interact and communicate with one another. 

Take into consideration the following questions: Will the device have to be plugged into a power source for an update to install? Or, will the product continuously maintain a network connection – allowing updates to be downloaded virtually anywhere, at any time? 

In a similar vein, will the device be able to function without interruption as updates are downloading? This particular question is incredibly significant for some industries, such as healthcare, where a medical device is providing critical patient care. In these circumstances, a temporary disruption due to an over-the-air update can mean the difference between life and death. 

How OTAU Can be Used to Improve Products

From the early phases of product development to the release of new over-the-air updates, the most crucial part of the equation lies in your OTAU strategy. A tremendous amount of thought must go into how your business establishes its methodology, infrastructure, development and evaluation of OTAU. A single mistake – however small – can cause system-level damage and brick your devices. 

Over-the-air updates are a powerful tool for product development and require companies to consider a myriad of factors when employing the resource. Are you communicating with clients and seeking frequent feedback? Are you implementing strategic solutions to improve your product based on feedback received? Are you thoroughly vetting and testing your OTAU before releasing them?

From increased customer loyalty to improved ROI, your business can reap a multitude of benefits from over-the-air-updates. The key is to incorporate focused planning and evaluation into the development process, checking off all your boxes before an upgrade is launched. 

Want to ensure your product design and development are carried out seamlessly? At CHOi Design, our experienced team of engineers, researchers and designers provide expert guidance on everything from strategy and ideation to prototyping, model design and user experience. Ready to get started? Contact us today!