If you’ve watched the “Star Trek: TNG” TV series with the “Captain Jean Luc Picard” character, you’re probably familiar with the Borg, a collective of multi-species cybernetic sentient beings and their “We will assimilate you” objective. The Borg had all kinds of wearable technology embedded into their bodies. In a sense, it’s possible that we as a culture might eventually be “assimilated” by ubiquitous wearable tech the same way smartphones are now ubiquitous, but hopefully not embedded into our bodies as per the Borg.
The reality is that the range of functionality of wearable tech is already quite impressive, and there are already countless actual and possible applications of it for business in various industries. In fact, a Harris Poll survey worldwide showed that 73% of respondents think there are benefits to wearable tech in the workplace — albeit more adults in India (91%) and China (94%) believe that than in the United States (~50%), Still, Markets and Markets estimates (Sep 2014) that the total wearable electronics/technology market will be around $11.61B by 2020 (replacing an earlier estimate of $8.36B by 2018), whereas Morgan-Stanley estimates (Nov 2014) a potential market of $1.6 trillion “in the near future.”
Types of wearable tech that arguably have the most potential for business use includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Smart watch – sometimes paired with a smartphone
- Activity tracker – typically worn on wrist to monitor certain vital signs
- Smart glass or HUD (Heads-Up Display) goggles – e.g., Google Glass and Oculus Rift
- Smart earpiece (what Fortune magazine calls a “hearable”)
- Wearable smart badge – brooch style, or with a lanyard or necklace
- Wearable tiny computers – like the Theatro, which hangs on a lanyard or clips to a pocket.
Businesses are already considering the presence of wearable tech and the potential applications. a CIO Insight survey published in May 2015 found that 86% of respondents said their company planned to increase spending on wearable tech within the next year, with 79% believing it to be “strategic to their company’s future success.” Devices specifically singled out for potential were smart glasses (79%), smart watches (49%) and digital badges (37%), with numbers in brackets representing the percentage impact on an enterprise. In case you’re thinking that this is just a survey of opinions, a research effort published May 2014 by HCAW (Human Cloud At Work; PDF) showed that UK employees were 8.5% more productive with certain types of wearable technology, which also increased job satisfaction, albeit by only around 3%. Read on for a small sampling of business applications of wearable tech.