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Five ways IT can prepare for wearable devices at work

By Robert J. Mullins, Network World
November 04, 2013 06:09 AM ET

Network World - Just when IT execs are getting a handle on how to accommodate employees' personal smartphones and tablets in the workplace, the technology industry has thrown up a new challenge -- wearable computers.

These devices are just starting to trickle into the marketplace, but now is the time for enterprises to start thinking about how to control these new gadgets and also how to leverage them.

Besides Google Glass, due out sometime in 2014, other companies are already selling smartwatches, some of which sync with a smartphone that a customer already owns, so some of the smartphone functions can be used on the wearable.

While the initial appeal of the wearables will be to consumers, it’s inevitable that, like smartphones and tablets, buyers will want to use wearables at work.

“This is a very natural continuum of what we’ve seen for a long time in terms of this notion of ubiquitous computing,” says Bret Hartmann, CTO for the security group at Cisco. “We can take these lessons we’ve learned in the broader `bring your own device’ space, how enterprises have dealt with that, and apply them to wearables.”

While that’s the basic approach, a lot of work still lies ahead to make sure mobile device management (MDM) software that enterprises deploy on smartphones and tablets extends to wearables.

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Here’s some advice for enterprises preparing for the advance of wearables:

1. Talk to your MDM vendor

Mobile device management software lets a company establish security and privacy rules on mobile devices designed to protect business data and applications when they are run on a smartphone or tablet, whether they are company-issued or owned personally by the employee.

The issue is whether MDM software running on an existing mobile device will automatically run on a wearable. The answer today is, not yet.

In order for MDM apps to work on wearables, the operating system vendor needs to offer APIs to modify the app to run on wearables, and device manufacturers need to implement those APIs in their devices, says Bryan Taylor, a research director at Gartner.

Take the case of Google, who is developing Google Glass, and whose Android operating system will power the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch unveiled in September.

“In the case of Android, it’s up to the device manufacturers themselves what APIs they’ll make available,” Taylor says. “If Google were to put a full set of APIs in Android, and they do have that, not all mobile device manufacturers implement those equally because of the latitude Google has given the manufacturers.”

Such Android APIs aren’t yet available, but Google appears to be working on it.

“Once we make our GDK (Glass Developer Kit) available, MDM vendors should be able to use it to write their software to run on Glass,” says a spokesperson for Google, without indicating when that might be.

Apple, meanwhile, controls both the mobile OS and the device, says Taylor, making it more likely that MDM-related APIs would be available throughout the Apple platform. Apple hasn’t announced any wearable products yet, but speculation is that they will introduce an Apple pair of glasses like Google Glass and some kind of smartwatch, dubbed the iWatch.

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