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With the launch of the much-anticipated Apple Watch, rivals are upping their game as wearable technologies heat up to hit the market, writes James Stables

The wearable-technology revolution hit fever pitch in August 2014. At first it simmered – the Fitbit Flex, Google Glass and the Pebble smartwatch were early trailblazers – yet everything seemed to be an entrée for the Apple Watch-led wearable feast set to explode.

In April, Apple’s first wearable is expected to take the category to uncharted heights, featuring watches that range from US$349 for the entry-level model to US$17,000 for the top-tier 18-carat gold editions. Along with Android Wear from Google, which powers watches such as the Moto 36, and mind-blowing advances in virtual-reality technology, these amazing new products are part of a seismic shift in the consumer technology landscape.

And, as with any major technological game-changer, the business world is now exploring how it can take advantage of the new possibilities provided by such gizmos. From smartglasses and smart- watches to augmented reality and fitness trackers, companies have a lot to gain from wearable tech.

A study called The Human Cloud at Work: a Study into the Impact of Wearable Technologies in the Workplace concluded that employees on average were 8.5 per cent more productive when using wearable technology and 3.5 per cent more satisfied in their work. “Wearable technologies are arguably the biggest trend since tablet computing, so it’s natural employees and businesses will look to use them in the workplace,” says the report’s author, Chris Brauer, Founder of the Centre for Creative & Social Technologies at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Fitbit
The latest Fitbit devices offer 24/7 heart-rate tracking for more accurate logging of your daily calorific burn based on your steps. An insurance company has even announced that use of your Fitbit could lower your insurance premium.

“By using data from the devices, organisations can learn how human behaviours impact productivity, performance, wellbeing and job satisfaction. The results show organisations and employees need to develop and implement strategies for introducing and harnessing the power of wearables in the workplace.”

Wearable tech in the workplace isn’t just the stuff of studies and conjecture. At its gargantuan distribution centre in Ireland, UK supermarket giant Tesco tracks its workers using connected armbands with 2.8-inch displays. Tasks are allocated to workers on the floor, and users are nudged if their orders are short, boosting efficiency at every turn.

It’s not just about time efficiencies either. There are 30 Fortune 500 companies using Fitbit activity trackers to promote healthier lifestyles among their workers, challenging employees to complete team and collective goals, to boost team performances and enjoy the benefits of a fitter workforce.

While we could – and are – finding efficiencies in the workplace from these devices, consideration must still be taken as to how wearables affect us as human beings. 24/7 tracking may be a manufacturer’s dream, but there are undeniable emotional side effects.

Regardless, the rise of virtual reality in business is steaming ahead. In January, for example, Audi announced plans to let its customers virtually check out their car customisations using VR technology in its showrooms. Another British-built system uses Oculus Rift to train army medics to treat injuries under fire in a simulated environment. And a project funded by the MOVEO Foundation captures live surgery, enabling trainee doctors to watch procedures first-hand, as though they were present at the operation.

But virtual reality headsets aren’t the only eyewear revolutionising the workplace. Smartglasses are increasingly being seen as a way of helping employees. A report in the Harvard Business Review revealed that mobile workers check heir smartphones more than 150 times a day.

Organisations can learn how human behaviours impact productivity, performance, wellbeing and job satisfaction

This simple yet time-wasting process of pulling out a phone, unlocking it only to find the alert wasn’t actually urgent, can be replaced by the “micro-interactions” enabled by smartglasses, which can aid those who need to use their hands too, putting information in front of the eyes. It has been adopted in consumer-facing roles, such as greeters at Virgin Atlantic first-class lounges, where passenger details flash in front of staff members’ eyes so they can offer that personal touch. Dubai International Airport has also embraced virtual reality in the form of holograms, using virtual assistants that greet travellers with relevant flight information. And in politics, Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, used holographic effects in his election campaign by way of a 3D avatar.

With progress to be made in efficiency, job satisfaction and wellness, there’s profit to be made from wearable tech in the business world. New devices will converge many of these technologies into new devices, enabling businesses to create bespoke apps for their workers. As the Apple Watch nears release, it seems the business world is lagging behind the consumer one on wearables. But with so much to gain, it’s only a matter of time until wearables grace every workplace.