There surely is innovation and novelty to come in the wonderful world of wearable tech (i.e. Nokia’s Lumia smartphone skirt), but as consumers may be quick to adopt certain devices such as the already-to-be-discontinued Nike+ Fuelband and similar devices like FitBit, enterprises are more cautious in examining potential use cases. The opportunity seems to lie in specific verticals.
IDC expects wearable tech shipments to exceed 14 million units in 2014, more than three times the volume shipped last year. What’s more, the research firm forecasts shipments will swell to nearly 112 million by 2018, a clear indication that this trend has considerable staying power.
As opposed to how consumerization of mobile devices drove widespread adoption, wearable tech will likely catch on in specific vertical industries—especially healthcare, manufacturing, and oil & gas—before finding a home in the broader enterprise, explains Splashtop CEO Mark Lee. “With the Internet of Things starting to really take off, workers need to access/input data at the same time as they are using their hands,” he says.
The medical industry in particular is poised to benefit from wearable devices and monitoring applications, which could eventually help to lower skyrocketing healthcare costs. In manufacturing, wearable glasses could free up workers to truly concentrate on the task at hand. “If used right, wearables will also improve efficiency, productivity and safety,” notes Lee.
As of now, most wearable devices lack significant storage or computing capabilities, making them less of a data leakage threat than smartphones and tablets—for the moment. “Usage today is still limited and most data does not pose any threats,” Lee says, “however, once enterprise adoption does pick up, it will bring a whole new frontier of security risks, adding another layer of complexity for IT—especially healthcare and ensuring the devices are HIPPA compliant.”
Add-on vs. Replacement
Will wearable devices replace phones and tabs in some instances or be complementary to existing devices? According to Lee, innovation focused around specific usage models likely will drive whether the wearable serves as an auxiliary device or becomes a full-fledged replacement. “It is too early to tell as every device has its optimized usage experience,” adds Lee.
Many enterprises still haven’t even hit their sweet spot yet with smartphone and tablet app development so speculating about where wearable tech will fit into the enterprise device ecosystem remains conjecture.
One of the main challenges facing the wearables industry right now is that there is simply too much fragmentation, with Samsung, Google, Apple and numerous other companies creating devices on their own disparate platforms. Much like other form factors, it’s difficult and costly for developers to create cross-platform apps for so many different operating systems.
“By nature, wearables have lighter operating systems and weaker computing capability, and this presents different challenges and opportunity for developers,” Lee explains. “However, I believe that wearables will be very specialized and devices will be designed for specific usage and so developers will be less likely to need broad platform.”
Samsung seems to already have a leg up on competitors; according to IDC’s ConsumerScape 360 survey, the South Korean manufacturer emerged as the most trusted brand of all the wearable makers, including Sony as well as Google and Apple. IDC chalks this up to Samsung’s slew of wearable devices already on the market.
However, Google made a splash last week with the first-ever public sale of its Glass wearable to to the tune of $1,500. Yankee Group associate analyst Ryan Martin believes the tech giant staged the sale as a way to clear out inventory and make room for a second-gen device. According to Martin, “Google’s wearable tech product strategy will evolve to one that targets specific market segments by balancing the aforementioned needs: price, utility and use case.”
In addition, other more enterprise-focused companies are jumping into or have already been in the market behind the scenes. Epson America showcased conceptual demos, including utilization for the Internet of Things, with its second-generation Moverio BT-200 smart glasses for augmented and virtual reality experiences at the SXSW Conference this week. Initially unveiled at CES 2014, the device now includes apps that provide a glimpse into future use cases.
“The unique core technologies powering the Moverio BT-200 allow developers to push the boundaries of what’s possible with new applications that promise to change our world,” said Anna Jen, director, New Ventures/New Products for Epson America. “Epson’s Moverio developer program offers companies the opportunity to create innovative smart glasses applications for both the consumer and enterprise markets.”
Motorola Mobility’s, Lior Ron, CVP Product Management posted an announcement in a recent blog about Moto 360, a “truly modern timepiece, designed by Motorola, powered by Android Wear.” According to the post, the device is proactive in telling you what you need to know before you even know. Incoming emails and calls, meeting notices, social posts are all visible “with a twist of the wrist.” Moto 360 is responsive to voice for Google search, making appointments, sending texts or taking notes, for example.
Motorola Solutions, just acquired by Zebra, already has a host of wearables for manufacturing environments including a ring scanner, wearable terminal and full headset computer.