Wearable devices like smartwatches, activity and fitness trackers, smart badges for location tracking and security, and smart glasses are generating considerable interest in both the consumer and business worlds. More recently, new types of wearables have appeared in the form of smart fabrics and clothing and virtual reality (VR) headsets.
Wearables promise a host of opportunities, from giving companies a new customer touchpoint they can use to engage directly with consumers to changing the way healthcare is provided and medical research is conducted. Already wearable devices are being used to assist employees with their jobs, and such usage is expected to advance in the near future. Wearables will make their way into business and industrial scenarios ranging from CRM and HR to the shop floor.
But along with opportunities, wearables raise concerns. These include the usual qualms about ensuring security, as well as the technical, business, and privacy issues involved in the collection and sharing of data acquired from personal devices for marketing, research, and other purposes. There are also more fundamental issues that have to do with wearables representing a new style of human-machine communication and interaction. Chief among these are considerations related to the successful design and marketing of wearable products.
Finally, wearables are poised to shake up established industries. Healthcare is the most obvious example, but other industries are also likely candidates for disruption. We are already seeing life insurers and wellness providers offering discounts and incentives to customers who agree to submit data from their wearable fitness devices in order to monitor their lifestyle choices and exercise habits. In a similar manner, companies across various industries are using wearables to help optimize their own employee wellness programs as well.
STATUS OF WEARABLES
Before we go any further, an overview of wearables is in order. "Wearables" is the term currently used to describe a mishmash of products and technologies that can be worn on, inserted into, or even ingested within the body.
Smartwatches and health and fitness bands are undoubtedly the most popular form of wearables today, and in Cutter surveys, they are seen as generating the most interest among businesses. The former are exemplified by such products as the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear, but there are lots of others. Meanwhile, Fitbit and Jawbone have almost become household names when it comes to fitness- and activity-tracking bands. A key distinction to note between the two categories is that, unlike smartwatches, fitness and activity trackers are not able to run third-party apps. Consequently, they are focused solutions that are limited to supporting the scenarios for which they were mainly designed (exercise, running, biking, etc.). Smartwatches, on the other hand, can be used for a large number of scenarios limited only by which apps are available for download from Google Play and Apple's App Store.
Smart glasses have captured a lot of interest -- the most visible, of course, being Google Glass. However, Glass failed to catch on with consumers, mainly due to privacy concerns and the fact that they looked kind of dorky. It now appears that Google is repositioning Glass for business and industrial scenarios. For use in such domains, it has competition from other smart glass manufacturers like Vuzix and Epson.
Smart badges like those from Ekahaus are typically used for tracking and security purposes; for example, to monitor the whereabouts and status of employees and patients in a hospital (e.g., available or on lunch break? admitted or discharged?). They also provide instant communications capabilities, such as allowing teachers to immediately notify local law enforcement that a "security event" is underway at their school with the simple press of a button.
Wearables have gone fashionable, too. We are now seeing all kinds of necklaces, bracelets, and pins being marketed for a host of applications, from tracking sleep and fitness activities to monitoring the wearer for exposure to environmental factors like UV radiation.
Smart clothing in the form of shirts, socks, and other garments are a more recent commercial development. Such products are made with smart fabrics featuring textile sensors embedded or woven into their design. Smart clothing is typically used to monitor how the wearer's body is functioning, to support easier communication, or to supply connections for making other electronics (smartphones, etc.) more "at one" with the human body. A good example of smart clothing is Sensoria Fitness Socks, which are designed to measure and record an athlete's running style -- including gait, foot landing/positioning, and impact (i.e., heel strike). In June, Google announced its Project Jacquard effort to develop smart textiles, which clothing manufacturers and designers will be able to use to create their own lines of smart clothing. Levi's is one of the first to say it plans to do so.
Virtual reality offerings, typically in the form of headsets or goggles, are another form of wearable. VR is mainly having an impact in consumer gaming and infotainment, but we are beginning to hear about the technology being used in business scenarios. Key products include Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.
"Smart pills" are also sometimes assigned to the wearables category. They are used to monitor vital signs in humans and animals. For the latter market, they look promising for tracking the whereabouts and health of large herds of livestock. Vital Herd is developing products for just this use.
Finally, there is the huge number of wearable medical devices, ranging from the heart and blood pressure monitors used every day by millions of people to advanced technologies like Google's smart contact lens for measuring blood glucose levels in the wearer.
These are not all the wearables currently available or under development, but I think they give a pretty good idea of what is "out there." The key point to keep in mind is that a huge amount of innovation is taking place when it comes to the development of wearable technologies. Over the next few years, we should expect to see some stunning new products that are going to profoundly affect our technology, business, social, and legal landscapes. This includes the use of wearables as consumer electronic devices, as well as in business, manufacturing, healthcare, medicine, research, and other domains and industries. And this is the focus of this issue of Cutter IT Journal.
IN THIS ISSUE
We begin with an article by IBM's Lukasz Paciorkowski and Karolina Marzantowicz, who examine how wearables are changing our lives and helping to lead to the "digitization of humans." As part of their discussion, the authors bring some clarity to the definition of wearables by noting that there is a problem with the general description of their being just something we "wear." They propose an alternative means of defining wearables through their purpose, which is to provide a "new, natural, and frictionless way of interacting with technology" that is not limited to the usual way we do that -- namely, with our hands. The authors suggest (and I completely agree) that wearables will be "the new interface for the IoT era." In short, wearables will enable people to more effectively interact with technology as it becomes increasingly integrated and embedded in almost every facet of our lives.
Paciorkowski and Marzantowicz also detail the impact of wearables on various industries and domains and the market opportunities and possibilities offered by products and all the data they will generate. This includes the application of wearables in healthcare, entertainment, sports and fitness, and the military. Finally, they consider future market developments, including issues that could impact the success of wearables such as connectivity and interoperability of wearables, data management and analysis, and security and privacy across the wearable devices and platforms.
Next up, Grace J. Ambrose of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Paul J. Ambrose and John D. Chenoweth, both of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, examine questions pertaining to how wearables should be made and evaluated so that the products provide optimal user experience and hence become more widely adopted. In so doing, they propose an alternative approach to planning, designing, and implementing wearable products.
The authors argue that traditional technology development methodologies are not really suitable for developing new wearables. What is actually needed for commercial success with wearables is a sociomateriality approach that more fully takes into account the complex nature of how technologies and products become deeply "entangled" with the people using them. By developing a thorough understanding of the nature of this technology-people entanglement, they say, companies that manufacture wearables will be able to design products that offer more than just narrowly focused solutions to a single problem. Instead, this approach will lead to the creation of products that become deeply enmeshed in people's daily lives, as, say, Apple's iPhone has become. Finally, the authors consider how to address the marketing and design challenges of wearables using these strategies by providing an example of how they could be applied to the development of smartwatches for the consumer market in India.
Our third article is by David Wortley of GAETSS (Gamification and Enabling Technologies Strategic Solutions), who examines how the adoption of consumer wearables employing increasingly sophisticated biometric sensors for monitoring and measuring health and fitness are impacting business and society. Wortley discusses how the consumerization of healthcare via the use of wearables is not only challenging traditional models for delivering healthcare, but also provides opportunities and challenges for the corporate sector. He pays particular attention to the way lifestyle-related conditions and illnesses like obesity and diabetes can directly and indirectly affect businesses in terms of higher insurance premiums, work days lost to sickness, and reduced employee performance. Wortley argues that through the use of wearable devices combined with gamification, incentives, and social strategies, companies can improve the health of their employees and reduce costs, thereby gaining a competitive advantage. He also explores how to balance the need for privacy when it comes to the collection and sharing of personal lifestyle data with the potential value it offers for optimizing the individual's health and its contribution to medical research as a whole.
Our final article, by James Hayward and Raghu Das of IDTechEx, examines key applications and opportunities for wearable technologies, as well as issues involved in bringing wearables to product status in different industries (e.g., healthcare, defense) and for general consumer use (e.g., infotainment, fitness, watches). The authors also consider the commercial, industrial, and military usage and opportunities afforded by wearables.
As part of their discussion, Hayward and Das propose a roadmap for current and future wearables, noting how many of the existing products have been developed from or are based on current commercial smartphone technology -- and thus why their reception by consumers has been somewhat mixed. I am particularly interested in the authors' discussion of how the next generation of wearables will be significantly different, as upcoming products will be based on new electronic components and technologies -- just now starting to emerge from labs -- that are designed specifically to support new and existing forms of wearables.
We hope that the thought-provoking articles that follow will better acquaint you with all the new developments taking place in this exciting area. We further hope that you will find them helpful as you consider the possible opportunities wearables present to your organization.
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- Entangle the Wearables: A Sociomateriality Approach to Design
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