Driving contextual apps, moving beyond pure augmented and virtual reality, and more industry applications is where wearable computing is heading in 2016, according to analysts.
Adrian Leow from Gartner said wearables are driving a change in the way apps are developed and delivered. He sees wearables driving contextual apps that serve up information and options to the user, leaving the era of people going to the app and tapping it behind.
“An example would be if an employee is going out to a particular site to inspect it, that app would actually serve up to them choices A, B, C. And if they go to another site later in the day, the same app will show them A, B, C but it’ll be different [options]. It’ll take the location, it’ll look at their calendar, it’ll look at who they are visiting, it’ll look at past issues with that particular site and bring [suggestions] to them.
“This is where we are heading when it comes to wearables. These apps are going to be accelerated by wearables, because they are going to be interacting with these apps. They will serve up information that you didn’t necessarily think to,” he said.
Arvind Arun from Frost and Sullivan said head-mounted displays are one of the fastest growing categories of wearable devices in the enterprise segment, with more industry applications to evolve next year.
“In 2016, the use of head mounted displays will become more pervasive in the workplace and will transition from the ‘testing’ phase to the ‘widespread implementation’ phase,” he said.
Some industry applications that are starting to take off include logistics, where UPS in partnership with Motorola Solutions introduced a new wearable scanning system to replace point-and-shoot handheld terminals, he said.
Another example Arun pointed to is repair and maintenance, where Abseilon partnered with Vidcie to use a wearable camera that streams live video sessions for remote monitoring and viewing.
The healthcare sector has also taken to wearables with Stanford University Medical Centre, for example, using a special type of wearable glass to give doctors an outline of a patient’s veins, which helps them guide a needle much more easily and with greater accuracy, he said.
Smart clothing will also find more applications in industry next year, according to Leow. Owners of factories, for example, are starting to look into how sensors on clothing that monitor not only heart rate and respiratory but also movement to assess a workers’ health and risk of fatigue when going about labour intensive tasks.
“Supervisors can monitor how their different employees are picking up heavy boxes, for example. And that can also feed into future worker’s compensation claims as well. They can actually have a record of how the employee was actually lifting particular boxes or whatever is it.”
Head-mounted displays will also go beyond pure augmented reality or pure virtual reality. Leow expects more development around what Microsoft is doing with HoloLens where holographic objects interact with the physical surroundings.
This also includes engineering it in a way to have digital objects follow the laws of physics so that if a user had a holographic bottle and rolled it off the edge of a real life table, for example, it would fall onto the ground.
Augmented reality has its limitations in that it’s just a 2D fixed display of information that doesn’t allow a user to really manipulate or move digital objects.
Virtual reality, on the other hand, removes the user from their physical environment altogether and totally immerses them in the virtual environment, which can also be limiting because users cannot integrate their real life world or physical assets with their virtual world.
“So we are not going to go down that whole Oculus Rift yet where you just step into a completely virtual world. That has quite a way to go, it’s not going to go down that path in the next 12 months,” Leow said.
“In terms of where head mounted devices are going, it’s more along the lines of where you layer over your current surroundings, so it’s not going to be a full virtual reality,” he said.
The cost of some wearable devices may still be an issue next year. Stuart Johnston from Deloitte said if the price point of Google Glass continues next year, then it’ll be hard for it to compete in the already overcrowded wearable and mobile device space.
“The problem with Google Glass as well was the price point. It’s not so much that we can’t afford Google Glass, it’s the share of the technology wallet. The other problem to crack is convincing me to spend it on Google Glass rather than on my Netflix subscription or multi-media subscription, or on my new phone or new device. Things like Google Glass really have to compete both for the attention of the consumer and with what is becoming a very crowded digital spend.”
Leow said smartwatches have not taken off particularly well in the enterprise or business world, as not many organisations can justify the added expense, especially when there’s no guarantee that they will be able to secure it.
“None of the enterprise mobility management providers yet that lock down your device can do that for these different wearable devices. So we don’t necessarily see that much adoption through 2016 for smartwatches in the enterprise as a formal device.”
While industry applications will start to take off next year, cracking the consumer applications for head-mounted displays is uncertain in the coming year. Johnston said it might take Google quite some time before it figures out how to move beyond the novelty factor and make Glass more meaningful.
Other challenges for the coming year include battery life, interoperability with other platforms and devices, and an app ecosystem that is nascent and fragmented, Arun said.
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