Software Is Key For Wearables In The Enterprise - InformationWeek

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Himanshu Sareen
Himanshu Sareen

Software Is Key For Wearables In The Enterprise

Devices look cool on one's wrist, but it's the functionality of the software that will make or break wearables in business.

Whether it was BlackBerry BBM messenger, early email systems, or even Microsoft Excel, business has been primarily driven by software.

The potential for wearable devices in the enterprise has been covered a lot by pundits and analysts. Although wearable hardware is exciting, such devices are not commercially viable without well designed software. For many business people, technology has been taking a cue from consumers for at least five years. And with this trend come new expectations for an application's ease-of-use, a trend summed up with the popular term "The Consumerization of IT."

With enterprises already building custom internal app stores, businesses will feel the impact of the wearables movement rather quickly. Gartner is predicting that wearables "will drive 50% of total app interactions by 2017."

[Smartglasses, smart ID badges, and activity trackers will all find a home in the enterprise. Read 7 Ways Wearables Will Go To Work.]

In the workplace, bad software can disrupt operations. Avon recently shelved a $125 million software implementation due to process disruption. Sales representatives went so far as to quit their jobs over the new software system that was central to their day-to-day tasks. The point is that while a device may fit comfortably on one's wrist and look cool, the look and feel of software are critical for the success of wearable devices in business.

New screen size and a fresh interface
One of the greatest limitations when developing for wearable hardware involves limited screen real estate. The Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch boasts a 1.6-inch screen. The Pebble clocks in at just under 1.3 inches. In the same way that developers struggled to acclimate to 17-inch desktop displays and 4-inch smartphones, they will again be forced to evolve when working with wearables, which are a natural progression from smartphones.

In some cases, like with the FitBit fitness tracker that tracks metrics for employee activity and health, there is no interface at all to design for. However, extended software applications are needed to interact with and analyze data recorded by FitBit. FitBit is currently used by 30 companies in the Fortune 500 for their corporate wellness programs and is a good example of how to integrate wearables in the workplace.

Part of the attractiveness of FitBit rests with the backend software system used to monitor and aggregate large amounts of biometric data. Users that purchase the device get access to the analytics platform that makes troves of health data easily consumable. Through the use of visualizations and dashboards people do not have to struggle to extract insight. The software development team behind FitBit's backend system understood fully how the software would make or break the device.  

Displaying and interacting with content
Filtering content and displaying information when it is needed will also be central to wearables. Sergey Brin described the vision for Google Glass as making it so "you wouldn't have to have a search query at all -- the information would just come to you as you needed it." Software developers and designers will need to focus on contextualized delivery of information for wearable apps.

Google Now is a great example of how contextual computing can arise. With Google Now, users receive content that aligns with their search histories. If you spent the day searching for vacation deals or researching a product, Google Now will  

Himanshu Sareen is responsible for the strategic development of Icreon Tech, which specializes in IT consulting, application development for the web and mobile, digital marketing, custom software development, and design and usability. Sareen founded Icreon in 2000 ... View Full Bio

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Himanshu Sareen
IW Pick
Himanshu Sareen,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/19/2014 | 9:54:31 AM
Re: Apple
I definitely agree Michael. If Apple produces a wearable that goes deep in terms of biometrics and health information, it could be a substantial disruptor to everything from annual health check ups to security and safety in the workplace. 

And the potential for applications are substantial in both the enterprise and consumer space. Right now the most popular wearable is the FitBit, and the device has also been used as a part of the corporate wellness programs in a number of Fortuner 500 companies. 

Thanks for reading!
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
2/18/2014 | 10:08:19 PM
Re: Apple
If half the tech Apple is allegedly investigating ends up in the final product, I think it will be a disruptive device-- and definitely one driven by Apple's expertise with software, ecosystem integration, and device-appropriate interfaces.

I strongly suspect the iWatch (or whatever) will have the typical fitness bracelet stuff-- pedometer, calorie counter, something to measure sleep quality, etc. But if the company goes beyond that (measuring oxygen in the blood, measuring blood pressure and skin temperature, measuring glucose levels, even predicting hear attacks if last weekend's SF Chronicle report is to be believed), we're into new territory. I've heard a few high-ranking Cisco execs argue (in the context of their Internet of Everything campaign) that wearable devices embedded with medical sensors will be one major component in the path to better disease detection, more physically active citizens, and ultimately more and more people living a century or more. I don't know how quickly fantastic increases in longevity will come on board, but I do believe wearable devices could meaningful benefit the user's health. Based on reports, Apple's iWatch could be the first one to seriously test this belief.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
2/18/2014 | 6:26:34 PM
Re: Apple
There's been some recent speculation that Apple is interest in medical applications for wearable devices. I think that makes a lot of sense. Health is the killer app for wearables. It's something people actually care about and will pay for. As much as I find Google Now interesting, I haven't found it truly useful.
User Rank: Ninja
2/18/2014 | 4:25:45 PM
Software is one of the reasons why although it may not make sense at first blush apple would get into smartwatches, it will anyways. 

Apple has been successful in courting developers to make mobible apps. The supposed challenges for building on mobile fell away because of the incentives that Apple offered for those who could be successful in the App Store. That value will also be available when Apple releases wearables. 
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