Wearable computing is coming, whether we’re ready for it or not. Google Glass had its moment, but poor marketing helped marginalize its promising but still awkward technology. Smartwatches so far have also been a disappointment, with limited functionality and clunky aesthetics.
But Apple’s likely entry into the category could jumpstart the acceptance of wearables and help prompt more people to find business uses for what has mostly been deemed a personal, consumer technology.
Here are five ways—some already in use, others still on the horizon—that wearables could be useful in business and commercial settings:
- Training: Augmented-reality headsets — improved versions of Google Glass or even GoPro cameras — could be very useful ways for workers to share exactly what they’re seeing (in real-time or on demand) with colleagues and customers. The technique could be useful in healthcare, but also in industrial applications for troubleshooting mechanical problems, dealing with construction issues, and so on.
- Business Travel: Headsets and other wearables could help business travelers discreetly access information on unfamiliar locales without having to pull out their smartphones on every street corner. For the headsets, of course, that discretion would depend on the devices becoming common enough that simply wearning one in any context didn’t attract unwanted attention.
- Sports and Entertainment: Yeah, it would be cool to check the scores without having to alert everyone that you’re not paying attention to the meeting you’re in, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Instead, the wearables would be on the athletes and entertainers, capturing their movements, metrics, and experiences for sharing with their fans. Similar approaches are already in use with car-mounted cameras in auto racing and other sports, but I want to see exactly what Peyton Manning is looking at and know whether his heart-rate spikes when he’s about to be crushed by a giant defensive lineman.
- Police and military: This is already happening with wearable cameras increasingly showing up on law-enforcement personnel. I predict that virtually every officer walking the beat will be wearing a camera by 2020, and they’ll probably have head and/or wrist-mounted screens for accessing information on the go as well. The hands-free element is critical here too. I mean, you really can’t go fumbling for your smartphone while chasing down a suspect, can you?
- Sales: I wouldn’t have thought much of this application, but apparently Salesforce.com is committed to Salesforce Wear, putting together apps for everything from Google Glass and Galaxy Gear to Occulus Rift and fitness trackers. The company says it will support “Contextually Aware Sales Apps” and better customer service by offering access to live data as needed. The company is partnering with Accenture to help develop new applications.
We’ll see, but for me the real benefit would come from a way to give users discreet access to CRM files on people they meet, so salespeople can “remember” birthdays, preferred cocktails, and order status for all their customers and prospects.
The key is to make this stuff work seamlessly enough that it doesn’t call more attention to itself than using a smartphone does. Right now, I don’t think we’re quite there yet.
Maybe the iWatch will be the tipping point. Maybe not. But it seems inevitable to me that we’re going to get there sooner rather than later.