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Beyond the runway: Why wearables will give the enterprise a makeover

The Life & Tech Wearable Tech Expo and Fashion Show may have been aimed at consumers, but there was a behind-the-scenes workforce theme worth watching


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At last week’s Life & Tech Wearable Tech Expo and Fashion Show held at Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square, passers-by got up close and personal with the latest and greatest in wearable technology — from headbands that help you get your Zen on to LED-embedded skipping ropes that connect with your smartphone to keep you hopping.

But wearables aren’t just gimmicky fun. Indeed, there are plenty of emerging use cases for wearables in the enterprise — and if you haven’t been taking them seriously, it might be time to start.

What’s different about wearables from other mobile devices is the proximity of sensors to the body — now it’s a matter of figuring out how those can be used to make the app experience better, according to Tom Emrich, founder of the We Are Wearables user community, which has nearly 7,000 members.

“The idea is to encourage organizations to start to do something, and not just on the hardware side,” said Emrich. “What I’m really eager to do is inspire the software side, because the software side is really what’s going to drive the benefits.”

The wearables space, of course, is huge — from fitness trackers and smart watches to virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses. Each will have its own path, said Emrich, but convergence is key. “A developer only builds for so many unique developer platforms, so as much as I don’t want to see the big players be the only players in the space, what they do bring is that convergence, that ability for you to build on one platform and be available on multiple devices.”

In the smart watch space, we’re already seeing the maturation of operating systems, from Apple Watch OS to Android Wear. “I think 2016 is where we’re going to see a tremendous amount of growth in the app space for smart watches,” said Emrich. Android Wear’s latest version, 1.3, offers useful features such as instant translation in 44 languages. And Apple Watch 2.0, which was released last week, gives this “promising shell” some true potential.

“Without access to the sensors … developers are handcuffed,” said Emrich. “Now we’re going to see them unfettered [with Apple Watch 2.0] and we’re going to start to see, I hope, some really interesting use cases of apps using sensors of the device.”

And while consumers are interested in wearables for fun and fitness (and maybe even fashion), the enterprise will turn to wearables for productivity apps, as well as identity and authentication (such as Nymi, which uses a person’ electrocardiogram — or heartbeat — as a secure biometric identifier). Salesforce.com has made a huge push into Apple Watch, allowing users to run their business from their wrist — even accessing analytics dashboards.

We’re also starting to see traction into augmented reality (Google Glass hasn’t disappeared — at least in the enterprise). Emrich expects we’ll see its use in healthcare, military, oil and mining, as well as fieldwork — anywhere that wearables can keep employees safe or monitor and improve their efficiency and productivity.

“If they can save five lives, if they can improve efficiency in a warehouse by seconds,” then enterprises can immediately — and tangibly — see the ROI.

While wearables are still in their infancy, they’re not 10 years out either. And employees are going to start bringing them into the workplace — BYOD will turn into BYOW. “If a third of your workforce is wearing Apple Watch,” said Emrich, “why not tap into that?”

If you’ve only considered wearables as a way to track your daily caloric intake, it’s time to start thinking about the implications — and possibilities — of wearables in your organization.

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