Six important wearable app categories every enterprise needs to know

Far from a fad, wearables are going to make a big splash in these sectors

wearables

We've heard it since the discussion on wearable devices first began: wearable devices are a niche market, they say. Wearables are a fad, we hear.

Well, they better think again.

Many use cases are undeniably suited for enterprise wearable apps, and they promise to profoundly change, over the years ahead, how people interact with their applications, data, and even environment. Juniper Research expects the broad wearables market to grow ten fold in the next four years to $53.2 billion in 2019. That's up from $4.5 billion in 2014.

I spend a great deal of my time talking to customers about what they need from wearable devices for their business. Throughout these discussions, a number of common use cases typically emerge. I wanted to share six important wearable app categories every enterprise needs to know.

Notifications

Wearables add new dimensions to traditional text messages. As an extension of your business, wearables can provide actionable notifications beyond simple read only messages, including haptic feedback, such as buzzing at different levels of intensity to differentiate between informational, warning, and critical-level alerts. In the future, augmented reality feedback, such as flashing red for visual warnings and audible cues for low visibility environments, will also enter play.

For instance, engineers responsible for ensuring uptime and performance of applications can leverage apps developed for wearable devices, such as smart watches, to deliver actionable notifications. Apps should include the ability to instantly scale services, start emergency failover processes, and authorize users without the need to open a laptop.

Wearables that detect unsafe levels of noise can warn the worker with haptic alerts or visual feedback that they are approaching dangerous areas, or automatically perform regulatory checks as part of city or council inspections. In offices, wearables can warn of a fire, alert workers, and guide them to the nearest exits.

Interacting with the office environment

Employees typically spend eight hours a day at the office, and while technology has tremendously changed how we work and increased productivity, it hasn't changed how we interact with our offices.

Wearable technology is going to change that.

Consider how we interact with our offices today. Many offices have motion detectors that turn lights on and off as a way to save energy. But wearables can improve this process by controlling lights and other facilities including monitors, speaker phones, room heating, air conditioning, and window blinds. Unlike simple motion detectors, wearables provide persistent settings and control that follow the user, not just the room. Also, consider the ease with which employees can set meetings and book rooms. A wearable device will be able to identify open rooms, set up meeting duration, and also know the specific wearer's need for equipment and other preferences.

In addition, wearables could be used to guide meeting participants and visitors to the correct room using augmented reality, or even on-wrist turn by turn directions.

Hands-free

Notebooks, tablets, and smartphones are all productivity enhancers but they require two things to convey and potentially receive information: direct attention and use of one's hands. This is an area where wearable devices can break workers free. In fact, hands-free interactions via wearables is likely to become the most pervasive form factor. Consider the rapidly growing list of wearable devices: Myo armbands, fitness bracelets, and intelligent clothing. Hands-free wearables will define new interactions beyond tapping, swiping, and other common techniques. Google's Soli project is now building ways radio waves can enable gestures in three-dimensional space.

Despite what many say about the impracticality of wearable devices in business, all of these devices and new gesturing techniques have very practical uses. For instance, presenters at events and meetings typically use clickers to advance slides and laser pointers to highlight important information. Gesture-based wearable devices could be used to enable presenters to advance slides via sweeping gestures, or use pinch and zoom techniques to make slides more interactive.

Proactivity

Wearable devices have the unique ability to proactively influence behavior based on inputs, both visual and non-visual. We have begun to see the rise of importance in proactive monitoring through health related examples such as FitBit and Apple's HealthKit. Proactive monitoring in the workplace can extend beyond pure health benefits to promote safer workplace habits, cost avoidance strategies, and identification of workplace trends. When combined with consumer behavior, proactive wearable use cases can create highly differentiated product offerings and improved customer service.

Many businesses offer a variety of employee benefits, from discounts on movie tickets, to annual eyeglasses and vision rebates. Unfortunately, most of these benefits go unused. Employees are either not aware of the discount or did not have access to the information at the time they could redeem it. By creating a wearable app that proactively notifies the wearer of a benefit when they are in close proximity to it, and presenting the appropriate discount code, employees can more easily take advantage of perks.

Additionally, the ability to promote health and fitness via wearables enables insurance companies to proactively offer discounts on premiums based on activity. Developers can create apps that track customers progress towards goals and automatically update internal systems. Further, if a customer allows the sharing of blood sugar levels, heart rate, and other more personal health indicators, insurance companies can provide proactive suggestions on how to lower cholesterol, adjust dietary intake, and live a healthy life. The result is improved customer health, proactive reduction in premiums, and a reduction in claims the company may be required to pay.

Training, development, and education

Workplaces will utilize wearable devices to improve training, development, and education. Just as in-person instruction and teaching has primarily been replaced by screen sharing and presentation tools, wearable devices will disrupt what it means to conduct virtual meetings. Soon, it's highly probable that screen sharing will be augmented by wearables. Consider the possibilities in far-flung rural countries, emerging nations, and any currently underserved region.

Presenters benefit from augmented reality and glass-based wearables, too. They can be presented with an augmented view containing speaker notes, questions posed by the audience in real-time, and if paired with beacon technology, potentially even augment information about attendees within their line of sight. By understanding exactly who is in the audience, the speaker can tailor their talk track to include more relevant and personal examples and information.

Augmented reality

The ability to leverage wearables, specifically smart glasses, to augment the physical world with instructions or contextual information, provides endless opportunities to build work efficiencies. This is especially true in industries like manufacturing and construction that have typically spent a small fraction of their IT budget on mobile. While this is frequently related to hands-free operations, augmented reality relies on the use of visual overlays for contextual information. This means that augmented reality use cases will incorporate new design techniques and determine whether information is contextual only, or actionable. This could be through text or voice-based commands, or even other wearable devices and even connected equipment in the area.

Then, there is augmented reality enhanced collaboration. Similar to the ability to overlay schematics in order to understand a particular task, workers often rely on the advice of co-workers, supervisors, and even public internet resources such as YouTube, to provide additional assistance. Augmented reality in construction environments can be used to collaborate with coworkers just as knowledge workers have traditionally done with screen sharing approaches. This augmented collaboration is especially useful if workers are in locations where in-person collaboration is time-consuming, or risky. For example, construction workers repairing a bridge pylon may be suspended below a bridge span but require a supervisor to examine a suspect bolt.

A decade ago, few knew the smartphone revolution was coming, and fewer saw how profoundly it would change enterprise productivity. We believe that wearables are at the same place today.

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