Smartwatches, Activity Trackers Driving Wearables Beyond Healthcare

A new survey of large enterprises finds a good deal of interest in wearables, especially smartwatches, that is driving the market to look beyond novel healthcare and fitness uses.
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Nearly every industry in the US, from manufacturing, to energy, to telecoms, is looking to invest more and more in wearable technologies, such as smartwatches and other sensor-based devices. This in turn is creating a larger market for wearable devices beyond novel uses in healthcare, such as personal fitness.

Those are some of the finding in a new study by APX Labs, which has been making software for wearable devices for the last five years, and Zogby Analytics. The study, "The State of Enterprise Wearables," focused on large industrial companies in the US, in such sectors as manufacturing, telecom, utilities, energy, and the like, to understand their wearable device intentions.

The study, released Sept. 17, found that nearly every industry that they surveyed has already started down a wearable-device pathway. For instance, 93% of the respondents either used or were evaluating wearables for their business, while 87% thought wearables would have a significant impact on their business.

The study focused on specific industries with 500 to more than 5,000 employees, and interviewed 201 different enterprise users, according to Zogby.

There was openness to how the companies were treating wearable development, since 86% had more than one current scenario pathway active. No companies are truly sure which will be the most productive path for them, so they evaluate many.

Interest in specific wearables broke down into a few categories: smartwatches (61% interest), activity trackers (60%), indoor location sensors and beacons (52%), wearable mobile cameras (48%), and smart glasses (42%).

The high interest in smartwatches is a bit of a surprise since smartglasses, such as Google Glass, have taken up a lot of the recent conversation about wearables.

Survey respondents think wearables can benefit a large number of employees -- about 45% of an enterprise's employee base on average.

This gives credence to what other analysts have been saying about wearables. Gartner expects smart glasses to realize $1 billion in annual cost savings in the field services industry alone. IHS Research estimates the wearable technology market to grow to $6 billion by 2016.

Brian Ballard, CEO and cofounder of APX Labs, spoke with InformationWeek about the study.

Discussing what significant impact wearables could have on businesses, Ballard noted, "Depending on the company, it could be increases in efficiency, improved safety, or reducing errors. Business is looking for wearables to equip an underserved part of their workforce in order to gain access to real-time information."

Ballard sees this spread of real-time information using wearable devices having its maximum impact on the factory floor.

"We have seen a renaissance of white collar worker having access to real time information," said Ballard. "Now we are going to see the blue-collar worker have a renaissance with the ability to access real time information."

[Read about IDC's predictions for the wearables market.]

Now is the right time is right for businesses to move into this area because "the ROI is tangible now," Ballard said.

Smartglasses and smartwatches are the devices that currently capture Ballard's attention. "Apple Watches and Samsung's Gear watches are neck-and-neck on the watch side."

"Google Glass is the highest selling smart glass we have come across," Ballard added. "The rest of them like Recon and Epson are tied for second place."

Looking to an augmented reality (AR) device, such as Microsoft's still-in-development HoloLens, Ballard thinks, "It addresses a technology gap that will allow customers to go after some rather specific use cases where AR has advantages over heads-up display."

Ballard also wonders about the legacy back ends in front of the data that wearables need. "Your backend systems need to have the APIs that enable these devices. There also has to be temporal compatibility."

Is that some sort of Doctor Who joke?

Ballard actually has a point. "Wearables can’t query a backend and wait 15 minutes for the output. They need it right then."