Wearables: About To Crack The Glass Ceiling?

smartwatch basis intel health monitor

Virtusa senior vice president Frank Palermo tells TechWeek Europe how wearables and Google Glass could develop over time

The market for wearables is beginning to take off with consumers. Already we are seeing far more options in health monitors, activity trackers and pedometers. This year may well signal an even bigger upsurge as Apple makes its debut into the wearable market with the Apple Watch.

Gartner predicts that companies which effectively employ wearables such as Google Glass, could save up to $1bn a year in the next 3-5 years.

google glass cinema large wearableMoving to the mainstream

However the consumer electronics space can be a funny thing. Consumers are generally herd animals and will only buy a new gadget when they see their neighbours using one. One of the problems with products like Google Glass is that it was released in a limited fashion as part of the “Explorers” beta program (you needed a private invite). Secondly, a price tag of £1,000 is steep enough to put off all but the most ardent of early adopters and ‘fanboys’.

Then you have the whole social acceptance problem. For most people, the use of Glass falls under the #creepy umbrella. Some people have been unnerved by the prospect of not knowing if they are being videoed or monitored. The potential to do real-time facial recognition video at the blink of an eye can scare even the most tech savvy users. Everyone has certain boundaries around privacy intrusions.

Leading the way to disruption

But it’s not hard to conceive how a wearable personal assistant like Glass could absolutely disrupt the medical industry, security industry, sports industry, and many others. For instance, CrowdOptic, which created technology to support the live streaming of information through wearables, has put Glass to work in several industries, including Healthcare, and now has over 19 hospitals using the platform to improve teaching, collaboration and emergency response.

CrowdOptic expects that number to grow to well over 100 next year.

Companies like Apx Labs, which created Skylight, an enterprise software platform for Glass, and Augmate, are targeting workforce apps that provide meaningful benefits for the ‘deskless’ workers. According to Google, 80 percent of the global workforce does physical or deskless work every day; the workplace may turn out to be the big opportunity for Glass in the future.

Over 60 highly publicised brands have explored using Glass. Virgin Atlantic ran a 6 week trial where agents at Heathrow Airport used the technology to welcome customers, and check them in for their flights. Sherwin-Williams tried boosting its paint sales by creating an app called ColorSnap that allows a user to take a photo, while the app analyses the primary colors and provides matching colors form the Sherwin-Williams lineup. Trulia, a real-estate site known for its innovations, created a demo called TruliaForGlass that allowed users to review listings that matched their criteria directly from the Glass app. There is already word that the Home Office is studying the possibility of providing the police with Google Glasses to assist with crowd control and ensure faster incident response. The development community has created over 100 apps for Glass, ranging from the innovative to the frivolous. For those looking for some amusement, there’s even a Battleship game for Glass called GlassBattle.

For certain professions or industries Glass could be downright disruptive, but for the average consumer – they really don’t have a clue as to how exactly to use the device at this point.

smartwatchThe cycle of device adoption

In technology, timing is everything. Most major technology disrupters go through similar cycles of evolution. The first generation of devices tends to be for hobbyists or toys for the well-to-do and don’t typically provide much real value; they introduce a new paradigm. The more disruptive it is, the longer it tends to take to get accepted.

Over time however, devices get better and technology matures, which in turn drives more widespread adoption. Remember the first cellular phone or should I say brick? Most people laughed at the idea of carrying this obtrusive device around with them all the time. It’s hard to imagine how those devices evolved to be the smartphones of today that we can barely spare a second without,

So, wearable technologies like Glass are in a similar class to virtual reality applications like Oculus Rift. They are the cell phones of the ’80’s; waiting to be refined, waiting for technology to be more streamlined and waiting for more fashionable form factors. They will also require more thought around security. It will take some time for these to develop, but when they do, they could just become the next-big-thing.

In the near term, the real opportunity for Glass may just be in the workplace. With a little more refinement of the device and some more consideration around privacy concerns, the device may just be ready to go. The response to the recent pictures of Google’s driverless car has proved that if Google wants Glass to take off in the consumer market, it might be best served selling it to Apple who has consistently proven their ability to shape technology for mass consumer adoption.

Frank Palermo is senior vice president at Virtusa

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