The Next Evolution for Wearables: Business
The wearables market has been dissected and analyzed so much it would be easy to presume that nearly every possible angle on the market or detail about it would have been thoroughly covered. But I believe there is one important area/opportunity for wearables that has been nearly completely overlooked: the use of wearables in business.
Virtually all of the wearable market analysis and coverage has assumed that it was a completely consumer-focused effort. The reasons are relatively obvious: virtually all of the wearable products that have been introduced, unveiled or discussed are completely focused on consumers.
Behind the scenes, however, a number of vendors have actually created, or are actively planning, products that are designed to be purchased by and used in business. I’m not talking about activity monitors for while you’re sitting at your desk—although, as I’ll discuss later, there has been some discussion around that—but devices that help you do your job more efficiently.
For example, imagine a heads-up display integrated into a glasses-type wearable that lets field service technicians overlay important information from a service manual on top of the live image of a device they’re repairing. This would enable these technicians to have hands-free access to critical information and even potentially relay a video signal back to an in-house expert if they run across a particularly difficult problem. In fact, these kinds of head-mounted displays have actually been used by some airplane mechanics for several years now in a more basic form. Newer versions can leverage the technology improvements that have occurred thanks to all the R&D that’s been done for consumer wearables.
These kinds of devices can be extremely beneficial for certain types of workers in certain types of companies, because it can allow them to get their jobs done more effectively. For companies, this can translate into direct dollar savings, because they can reduce the cost of things like additional truck rolls for repairs, allowing them to easily justify the expense of these devices.[pullquote]Business wearables can be extremely beneficial for certain types of workers in certain types of companies, because it can allow them to get their jobs done more effectively.[/pullquote]
Plus, in the case of a business version of a head-worn wearable, virtually none of the privacy concerns or social awkwardness that have sidelined products like Google Glass are an issue. This allows vendors of business-focused wearables to be free of these potentially problematic concerns.
In addition to head-worn wearables, there could be things like finger-worn mouse replacements for giving presentations or navigating through large bodies of data, or 3D models, in a “Minority Report”-like style. Leveraging biometric sensors, business wearables could also be used as digital authentication methods for device log-ins, security card replacements and more. (I wrote about the Wearable Identity Connection a few weeks back.)
Some companies have even talked about offering activity bands to provide ergonomic-based reminders about taking breaks or monitoring people’s health. In some cases, these health monitoring tools could be linked to insurance premiums with companies potentially obtaining lower rates if they have higher percentages of healthy people. (Although, to be honest, the potentially Orwellian-like privacy invasions that could occur when companies are tracking the physical activity, or inactivity, of their workers throughout the day are more than a little bit scary….)
To be clear, most business wearables aren’t designed for a large swath of workers, but rather, are focused on more specific vertical applications. As a result, the market for them is likely to remain relatively small when compared to the wider consumer wearables market.
Nevertheless, there are some very real business cases that can be made about bringing wearables to work, and I suspect we’ll see a lot more innovation in this area in the months and years to come.