There's no question that wearable devices will be the next widely adopted form of consumer technology.
‘Wearable tech’ was the talk of “CES 2014”, the global consumer electronics and consumer technology tradeshow in Las Vegas in January, and Gartner has predicted that the market will be worth US$10 billion (Bt324 billion) by 2016.
Samsung has already released two ‘smart watches’, while Google Glass went on general sale for a short time earlier this month.
Despite some fears that George Orwell’s predictions might finally be coming true (albeit 30 years late), there are a multitude of practical applications for wearable devices for consumers – from fitness trackers you wear on your wrist to automatic cameras that you clip to your breast pocket.
But can the same be said for wearables in the work environment? There has been plenty of discussion as to how the enterprise might benefit from this new technology, though it has all been pure speculation.
With consumer demand rapidly increasing – IDC says the number of wearable devices sold globally will top 19 million this year – it appears we are approaching a tipping point. Once widespread consumer adoption takes place, the enterprise is never far behind, whether it’s ready or not.
Remember how quickly workforces around the world tossed aside those cumbersome Blackberry devices in favour of more consumer-friendly smart phones? And the BYOD (bring your own device) trend that hit businesses in recent years was evidence enough that members of staff will take technology into their own hands if their employer isn’t providing what they want.
While not always immediately obvious, there’s also a whole host of applications for wearable tech in the workplace. I can imagine manufacturing and construction workers consulting information in the field on a smart watch, or even a mechanic seeing vehicle diagnostics through augmented reality (AR) glasses.
And wearable tech isn’t just for manual workers – smart phones are getting bigger and bigger, to the point where it’s not really appropriate to be taking one out to check e-mails and appointments in a meeting. Instead, imagine being able to discreetly look to your wrist for all the information you need.
These scenarios are realistic and, perhaps most significantly, would not require a complete overhaul of companies’ IT infrastructure. The most successful devices will be those that are simply new interfaces harnessing the power of the smart phones and tablets that most of us already carry in our pockets.
This means the barriers to entry are few and far between. Yes, there’s a lack of apps for these devices, especially business apps, but these are being developed.
Over the next few years, wearable technology will reinvent the working day across many different industries – from nurses and office workers to deep-sea oil rig engineers. Smart watches, AR glasses and even smart contact lenses will save time and increase productivity, results that will be reflected in the bottom line of enterprises that choose to embrace this new technology.
David Andersson is director of IFS Labs.