Innovation

The future of wearables and their role in the workplace

Wearable technology has ceased to be a novelty and has now become part of everyday life for many users, and expanding its use into the enterprise is the next logical step.

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A PwC survey showed the percentage of respondents who owned a particular type of wearable device.
Image: PwC

Wearables have a strong future in the enterprise and have the potential to increase workplace efficiency, according to a new study from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The devices are a part of everyday life for many as the early adopter stage has passed and the industry is now entering the early mass market stage, according to Mike Pegler, a PwC partner.

Wearables will be considered mainstream once they pass the "turnaround test." This means that when someone forgets the device at home, they return to retrieve it. "When they pass, it means the device has risen to a point of providing sufficient value that you're willing to turn the car around. When it hasn't passed that test it's a novelty," Pegler said.

The adoption of wearable devices has more than doubled since PwC's 2014 survey. 49% of the 1,000 survey

respondents, all based in the U.S., say they own at least one device. This is up from 21% in 2014.

The PwC report, The Wearable Life: Connected Living in a Wearable World, stated: "By 2020, more than 75 million wearables will permeate the workplace, according to research firm Tractica. And Gartner research estimates that by 2018, 2 million employees will be required to wear health and fitness tracking devices as a condition of employment."

Fitness device still rule, with 45% of respondents saying they own a fitness band. Among other wearable devices, 27% of respondents possess a smartwatch, 15% own smart glasses, 14% own a smart video or photo device and 12% wear smart clothing.

Wearables in the workplace

Wearables use in the workplace has clear benefits, with 49% of those surveyed saying that they believe wearable tech will increase workplace efficiency. And 37% said they expect their company to adopt the latest technology even if it doesn't directly influence their work.

Manufacturers should take note, however, that 67% of consumers said that employers should pay for their device. That presents an opportunity for those manufacturers who partner with corporations to provide health and fitness programs tied to a wearable device.

Price is still a major issue for many, and it's the top barrier to adoption. For 36% of respondents who don't own a device, affordability was a potential driver for a future purchase, according to the survey.

Lower priced devices are quickly arriving on the market, so the price barrier is likely to cease to be a major issue in the near future, with effective fitness devices as low as $22, Pegler said.

"There's a smartwatch from another Chinese company that's very well priced and offers a lot of functionalities. The increased competition will certainly continue to drive prices down," he said.

Privacy and security issues

Privacy concerns still exist, since theoretically, an employer can track an employee's location, hours worked, breaks taken and their activity level. But only 25% of respondents said they would not trust any company with personal information associated with wearable technology.

"It was interesting that privacy concerns are certainly there. They're not as high on the list as I might suppose them to be," Pegler said.

"People wouldn't think twice in terms of locking their laptop and installing anti-virus software but have you ever heard of anyone ask for anti-virus software for a smartwatch or other wearable," Pegler said.

While employees could opt out of a corporate wellness program to avoid being monitored, there could eventually be a price to pay as those employees are perceived to be hiding something, according to the report.

"One could argue that a wearable today knows more about you than any device you've ever carried," Pegler said.

Companies are also putting themselves at risk of liability since that employee data is subject to data breaches.

"Not unlike the early days of laptops and smartphones, questions about security and privacy have yet to be resolved for wearables. As wearable technology becomes more ubiquitous in the workplace, transparency and employee education will go a long way toward resolving these issues," according to the report.

Parents more likely to own multiple devices

An interesting fact noted in the report was that parents are significantly more likely to own not just one, but

Image: Fitbit
multiple wearables, than non-parents. Among parents, 49% said they own multiple devices, compared to 24% of non-parents. And of those parents who took the survey, 62% own at least one device, compared to 41% of non-parents.

"The hypothesis is that there is some combination of both personal accountability to do everything I can to improve my health and remain in this important role I'm playing," Pegler said.

There is an untapped potential with parents, who are the ideal customer base for companies who work in that space and want to deliver the next killer app or something of significant value to drop the abandonment rate of wearables, he said.

The future is bright

Dropping prices, new form factors and applications will all drive the wearables industry, Pegler said.

As more companies experiment with various technologies, the look of devices will continue to evolve as they've already gone from geeky and clunky to far more stylish.

"The enterprise space will be an interesting area. I think we'll see more pilots in that space focused on efficiency. In the consumer world we'll see an increasing range of products in the future. As the capabilities for those devices increase, and for the companies that can create killer apps, there is huge opportunity," he said.

See also:

The dark side of wearables: How they're secretly jeopardizing your security and privacy

Invisible revolution: How wearables are quietly invading the enterprise

Hands on with the Meta 2 augmented reality headset

About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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