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Wearable technologies still need to hit their enterprise stride

Wearable technologies represent a $7 billion industry, but they haven’t yet made their stake in the ground for knowledge workers.

Wearable technology is a $7 billion industry with predictions to more than double by 2019. The primary source of...

this market growth will be from Millennials (who are between the ages of 15 and 35). This generational group is quickly adopting wearables and the wearable technology market is migrating from fad to developing trend as competition and application continue to develop.

Wearable technology includes many forms of technology that a user can attach to his body, including eyewear, wristbands or even microchips that track a location, heart rate and myriad other data relative to the user, his environment, or possibly, a product with which he’s interacting.

While wearable technologies have largely proven their value in the consumer fitness market, traditional companies are curious whether there are benefits for them. Some health insurance providers are helping to pioneer this area by offering to reduce company premiums for those who participate in motion-tracked wellness plans to reduce the risk of disease among employees.

But today, knowledge workers can also use wearables to measure the temperature of a room, or help gather diagnostics on a patient admitted to the emergency room or help emergency workers in the field. But these wearable technologies are still struggling to gain traction. It can be difficult to display meaningful data on them,  not to mention some of the privacy considerations that arise in transmitting sometimes sensitive data over networks. And, of course, wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT) are still toying with various standards for networks, data security and so forth. All these issues need to evolve for wearable technologies to become truly enterprise-ready.

The key is usefulness

Issues like data security and standards need to evolve for wearables to become truly enterprise-ready.

But how do we know the difference between someone craving "the next thing" and company usefulness? This has been difficult given new technology typically having a pseudo status symbol for knowledge workers. The iPad became more productive than standard devices only after specialized software was released for it. Only then did the touch interface surpass the keyboard and mouse as a better alternative. These new forms of technology will require similar growth stages.

If a product becomes more novelty than utility, early adopters will have a hard time persuading the rest of the market that the technology is beneficial for the price. Also, given the high turnover, design modifications and competition in this field, some users would rather wait for the "right" product instead of adopt one now and have to change or upgrade later. We already have to upgrade cell phones every two years. Adding another device to change out that has low perceived benefit isn’t appealing.

Utility and how they connect to the IoT will be the deciding factors in the wearable technology race. One of the developing sectors for this technology is law enforcement. Motorola Solutions has begun researching new technologies to aid the police force with smart belts that can notify dispatchers anytime a gun is unholstered and notify the surrounding police force. This can dramatically improve response time and allow an officer to stay focused on the situation rather than relaying information back to headquarters.

This is where the field of wearable technologies will differentiate itself. Standalone computing combined technology advancement with a common interface: the typewriter. The precedence was not on the interface but the components inside. The mouse was developed to aid in the experience, the tablet created "touch" interface and replaced the mouse. Adding touch gave a more natural interface and introduced multiple points of contact. As we progress further into this field, the precedence on biomechanics will be just as important as the components themselves. We want devices that adapt to us more than we adapt to them. We want accurate data, and we want to control the privacy of that data. Encryption, privacy settings, and opt-in options will help to build the trust necessary for making these devices more accessible to the masses.

Security will play a factor in this area due to the intimate nature of the data being collected. Cell phones might be able to track your location, but a smart T-shirt could do that as well as monitor minute biometric fluctuations. How these devices communicate with the larger IoT landscape will need to be closely monitored as laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act may come into effect. Standardization of proprietary file types may also occur once industries leaders become clearly defined.

Because the field is so dynamically linked to people, you will see micromarkets form in relation to the people who use these devices. For some of us, this could mean wearing a brain-computer interface to write novels or stream-of-consciousness notes during a major event. For others, it will be wearing Google Glass to augment presentations or using Prism as a second screen when working on spreadsheets. Universal markets will include things every person can value like health, security, self-improvement and connecting with others. These devices can advance how we work by giving us information in real time.

Next Steps

How could wearable technologies help enterprises?

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Location-based apps bring convenience -- and privacy concerns

This was last published in September 2015

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