Christmas is coming, and one of this year’s must-haves for early adopters has to be wearable technology. From smartwatches to Augmented Reality (AR) enabled glasses, wearable tech has come a long way since the calculator watch and the Bluetooth headset.

While wearables have yet to shake off the ‘novelty’ tag, they have already made an impact in the consumer space by helping people improve their health and fitness. And increased consumer demand in this area is driving down cost and stimulating growth in the variety of wearables available on the market.

Google Glass grey
Wearable technology like Google Glass have a purpose beyond Christmas presents. Image © iStock/John Barnett

Industry analysts are predicting that the market will grow to be worth around £20 billion over the next five or so years – a rate of increase five times faster than mobile at its height. Businesses can’t afford to ignore these figures – while the technology is still in its infancy, the time is right to start considering its potential and building a strategy for its use. As with mobile, it’s vital to stay ahead of the game. In a rapidly-evolving environment where developments are happening thick and fast, standing still is to fall behind.

Cross-industry use cases

Essentially, any industry which requires workers to access data on the go, has an element of hands-free communication or needs a ‘joined-up’ operations process can potentially benefit from the use of wearable technology:

Healthcare

It is vital for healthcare professionals from doctors to care home assistants to be able to take care of their patients/clients while at the same time processing information about their treatment, medication and records. This is where technology such as Google Glass can prove its worth, delivering relevant information, records and care plans on demand to the user while they continue to look after their charges – even mid-surgery or during emergency treatment. In a time-poor, high-demand industry, smart headsets have the potential to revolutionise the way resources are allocated and could make a tangible difference to the efficiency and accuracy of patient care.

Manufacturing

Factory floors, warehouses and depots all rely on straightforward, up-to-the-minute information and the delivery of the right component parts and products at the right time. In an environment where the workforce is constantly in motion, whether supervising production, driving forklifts or managing heavy machinery, it is important to have a safe, swift means of communication. Devices such as smartwatches allow manufacturing staff to speak to each other without the need to compromise safety – they would no longer have to stop working to take out a mobile or radio device to give or receive updates, stock requirements etc. Motorola even has a smart range of products specifically designed to monitor health and safety, including biometric sensors that measure distress.

Retail

In a highly competitive environment where customer expectations are ever-increasing and the success of eCommerce has forced a shift in traditional retail activity, retailers need to take steps to ensure what they can offer in-store matches their online presence. This involves converging business and customer data across mobile devices, displays and wearables such as smartwatches in-store to deliver a personalised experience which transcends channels. The technology exists to make this a reality without disrupting existing systems and processes – sales staff equipped with tablets and wearables are able to seamlessly communicate with each other and the rest of the business to access customer information, details about products and stock and manage deliveries without the barriers which are often in place between on- and offline activity.

What’s next for wearables?

The optimism around wearables and their place in the future of technology is in part due to the fact that the software behind them has wide-ranging applications – they are the first step towards a viable ‘internet of things’, moving us from where we are now to the ‘everything connected’ world of tomorrow.

Currently, wearable tech is very visible – everyone knows if you’re wearing a smartwatch or Google gGlass – but there is a growing number of developers building ‘smart’ capabilities into existing products like jewellery and clothing. This and the level of personal data gathered from widely-adopted wearables such as fitbit will undoubtedly inspire some interesting debates about privacy and who ‘owns’ the information they gather.

In the meantime, the appetite for the next big development shows no signs of being satisfied – according to Forrester, by 2016 we’ll be out of the early adoption/pilot stage, with mainstream business adoption by 2019 and commonplace use by 2020. Wearables are clearly for life – not just for Christmas.