Wearables are a rapidly expanding segment of the tech market, and dozens of new smartwatches, augmented reality glasses, and fitness trackers were on display at CES 2015.
But while wearables have gotten plenty of exposure in the tech press and consumer interest is steadily growing, enterprise IT is still unsure about how wearables fit into their plans. According to a November 2014 Tech Pro Research survey, less than a third (29%) of respondents who are using wearables had added them into their BYOD plan and 60 percent weren't sure what lay ahead for wearables.
To better understand the latest trends in wearable technology, Tech Pro Research Senior Editor Teena Hammond spoke with three experts on the CNET stage at CES 2015: Jeff Jenkins, chief operating officer and co-founder, APX Labs; Dan Ledger, principal, Endeavour Partners; and Ayse Ildeniz, vice president of the new devices group and general manager of strategy and business development, Intel.
More than just a novelty
When asked why many people still lose interest in their wearables, Ledger explained that a variety of factors are to blame, including short battery life, improper fit, or a lack of aesthetic appeal. "But at the end of the day," Ledger said, "long term engagement of these products is driven by the nature of the benefit they provide."
Looking forward, as wearables have richer biosensing capabilities, these devices have the potential to address several "very human and timeless needs" such as dealing with stress, improving how people feel about themselves, improving sleep patterns, and weight loss, he said.
We are in the very early stages of wearable technology. And even though activity trackers aren't doing well with certain segments of the population, the future for wearables is still incredibly bright. "We're going to see some absolutely mind-blowing stuff in the next three to five years," Ledger said.
Functional and fashionable
In addition to providing tangible benefits, wearable devices must appeal to a person's sense of style. A survey from Intel found that 60% of respondents cared about the aesthetic design. "We actually think a wearable primarily has to be a reflection of you," Ildeniz said, because people want to feel proud to wear them.
Ildeniz highlighted a partnership between Intel and Opening Ceremony, a fashion house in New York, NY. Working together, the pair has created My Intelligent Communications Accessory (MICA), which is a bracelet "crafted from premium finishes, 18K gold coating and a curved sapphire glass touchscreen display." MICA owners can keep track of the calendar appointments, get and reply to messages, and even access search results and ratings for nearby restaurants, shops and more.
Intel wasn't the only company to blend both form and fashion at CES 2015. Ledger said he particularly liked the solar-powered version of the Misfit Swarovski Shine, which has tiny solar panels embedded under a large blue crystal. "From an architectural perspective it's a very nice combination of an aesthetic function and an actual energy harvesting function," Ledger said.
Wearables magnify security and privacy concerns
As wearable devices make their way into the workplace and onto corporate networks, they bring a host of security and privacy challenges for IT. Because wearable devices are designed to be small and portable, "you have to make sure you're thinking security first and you're thinking about the information that's being generated by them," Jenkins said. "You have situations where it's no longer just personal data that may be exposed or compromised, but also potentially operational data that could be sensitive in nature."
To address these security concerns, Jenkins said a lot of companies have decided not to build their wearable apps completely on their own, but instead rely on software platforms that already have enterprise-grade security built in.
When it comes to the vast amount of data wearables can collect about their owners, and the privacy concerns this creates, Jenkins believes that privacy depends heavily on the value proposition people get from those devices.
"We've seen with fitness wearables and fitness trackers that people are willing to give up a little bit of that potential privacy and expose aspects of their daily lives in the consumer market when they see value from what they get from that exposure," he said.
The same can't be said for smart glasses. Jenkins doesn't believe there's a killer app in the consumer market that would make people overcome their privacy concerns. In the enterprise market however, Jenkins said there are killer use cases that "make the workforce more efficient." He also pointed out that within the enterprise, workers have a lower expectation of privacy compared than in their personal lives.
Wearables, data analytics and IoT go hand-in-hand
While wearables have come a long way in both form and function, Ledger is most excited about companies that are finding ways to make the raw data these devices collect more useful to consumers. "There are a lot of products out there that will give you your heart rate, but what are you going to do with that?" Ledger asked. Taking this data and making it more prescriptive, not just descriptive, is what's missing from many current wearables. This will change in the next few years, as companies build not just wearable devices but "capabilities to model human bodies."
To Ildeniz, one of the most exciting trends in wearables is the parallel development that's happening with the Internet of Things (IoT) movement. "It's not just what we wear, but it's everything else around us," she said. From smart watches to smart homes, people are gaining more data and intelligence about not just themselves, but also the environment around them.
Wearable tech will eventually blend into the background
Whether smart watches, smart glasses or some other device becomes the indispensible wearable over the next five years, eventually the technology behind wearables will be integrated into so many objects that people will no longer think of products as smart or not. Many objects and clothes will be smart in some way.
"I don't think it's going to be one device on your wrist that rules [all your wearables] necessarily," Ledger said. "We'll be in a world where people will say "nice bracelet" and they won't be aware of the fact that there is a lot of functionality built in."
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.