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Wearable technology

January 12, 2015

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2015 looks set to be the year of wearable technology. Samsung predicted the value of the UK wearables market would have reached £313.6 million by Christmas 2014. This is not just about fitness tracking – by 2017, analyst firm Gartner predicts that wearable devices will drive 50% of total app interactions.

International Data Corporation (IDC) reckons the worldwide wearables market is ‘finally expanding beyond early adopter status to more functional and stylish lifestyle accessories that are making their way onto the pages of GQ and Shape, as well as Computerworld and Wired’. It forecast more than 19 million units would ship in 2014 – more than tripling 2013 sales – and the global market will swell to 111.9 million units in 2018.

Businesses of all types will need to look at how best to communicate with customers and staff in the world of wearables, while lawyers will be looking at the privacy and security ramifications of transmitting data to and from wearable devices.

Right now, wearable tech tends to come in the form of wristbands such as Pebble and Jawbone UP, smart watches such as the eagerly awaited Apple Watch or glasses. In future, wearable tech will come in many other shapes and forms. Gartner predicts that by 2017, 30% of smart wearables will be completely unobtrusive to the eye. Wearable tech may even come full circle and be embedded in clothes – Sensoria bras already detect heart rate.

Annette Zimmermann, research director at Gartner, points out that smart contact lenses and smart jewellery are in development. She believes wearables already on the market, such as smart glasses, are likely to develop new designs that disguise their technological components completely.

Big business has already started to use wearables to collect data or deliver information to sales people. VirginAtlantic has piloted Google Glass technology to help staff greet passengers as they arrive at London Heathrow airport.  Concierge staff in the airline’s Upper Class Wing used Google Glass and other wearable technology to deliver personalised customer service.

Google Glass and similar tech can provide augmented reality whereby customers viewing a product through Google Glass for example may see information about prices or facilities. Customers interested in properties in a specific area could walk around and see information on the interior of homes for sale on their wearable device. Google Glass can also take photos or video, enabling estate agents to create virtual tours of properties.

Marketers, who may just have got their heads round interacting with customers through apps and location technology, face a challenge in communicating in new ways with people who may be using cut-down smartwatch apps that interact with their mobile devices. On the plus side, these consumers may be sharing more data than ever before on their location and even the state of their health and emotions.

The legal ramifications of using wearable technology in business are many and varied, ranging from data protection, payment rules, compliance and HR concerns. However businesses should not be put off exploring the vast potential of wearables – many are already addressing these issues as they develop their mobile workforce or interact increasingly with customers’ mobile devices.