Currently you can’t open a copy of Wired Magazine or browse the Internet without stumbling across the term ‘wearables’. Indeed, the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas back in January – the industry’s biggest annual shindig – was described as the ‘real inflection point for wearable devices’. From Google Glass to smart watches and all points in between, it seems that wearables, whether the public has cottoned onto them yet or not, is the way forward.
But is it just a fashion trend? Are devices like the Galaxy Gear purely aspirational, or do wearables have a more practical application in our everyday lives? Put simply – do wearables have a place in our working environments?
Where tablets lead…
While not strictly a ‘wearable’ as such, tablets have already integrated themselves into the workplace. A survey in 2013 by tech research group Ovum found that 70% of workers who owned a tablet used it at work. However, the trend, known as BYOD (bring your own device), does present a problem when it comes to a company’s security, for example. However, even in heavily regulated sectors like finance, tablets are becoming the norm rather than the exception. One reason is the blurring of the distinction between working time and down time (just think how many people you see getting in an extra hour’s work on the commute home or into work every day), and that couldn’t happen without the inclusion of mobile devices within the working environment.
But how do wearables fit in? It’s perhaps a little more difficult to see how something like a smart watch could fit into a corporate arena, but there are areas where wearables could play an important role in our working lives. While it’s still not really possible to do complex work activities such as manipulating spreadsheets, a smart watch does give you the opportunity to check a document or respond to an email while engaged in other activities. Wearables could, in fact, make multi-tasking in the workplace much easier.
What is currently colouring our opinion of the influence that wearables could have is the limited range of commercially available products out there. It’s important to remember that, thanks to crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, a cluster of new concepts and products will be hitting the market over the next couple of years. Already used in healthcare and logistics, wearables could quite easily start to filter through to the office environment. Security is still a concern for many companies, but as products are developed you can pretty much call it a safe bet that new and more robust security measures will be brought in alongside the technology too.
Wearables such as Google Glass, smart watches and earpieces are already starting to make an appearance in the workplace, but to truly establish a foothold in the office, they will need to be tailored towards the unique demands and needs of workers. However, observers within the industry believe that change is inevitable, and within a couple of years we will start to embrace wearables in the workplace.
Indro Mukerjee, CEO of R&D experts Plastic Logic, sums it up: “Flexible electronics is a reality, already proven through the development and manufacture of plastic, bendable displays and sensors. For the first time a fully organic, plastic, flexible AMOLED demonstration has been achieved with a real industrial fabrication process. This marks the start of a revolution in wearable products, the next frontier in consumer electronics – 2014 will be the year that wearable technology starts to go mainstream.”