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How wearables and the rise of the Industrial Internet of Things are a boon for developers

John P. Mello Jr. Freelance writer

Rapid growth in wearable computing devices, fueled by the success of the Apple Watch and coupled with a staggering number of "things" connected to wireless networks and to each other, will create fertile opportunities for application developers in the coming years. And those opportunities lie not only in the consumer realm but also in the enterprise.

A timely trend

A recent report from 451 Research found that 39 percent of IT decision makers in the US at companies that use or plan to use wearable technologies will deploy solutions in the next six months. Nearly 24 percent said they planned to deploy wearables in the next 12 months. There was some particularly good news in the study for smartwatch developers. Of all decision makers who planned to deploy wearables in the next six months, eight out of 10 (81 percent) said their wearable plans favored smartwatches.

That demand will create a "tremendous opportunity" for third-party developers, maintains John Feland, CEO of Argus Insights. "One reason is the markets are small right now for people like Fitbit and Apple to be concerned with," he says.

Although Apple and Google would like their wearables to take over the enterprise the same way their smartphones did, Feland doesn't believe that's possible. "Wearables are a very different market by comparison," he observes. "Partly because you have to deploy fleets of devices. It's not necessarily 'bring your own device.' "

"All the wearables you see in consumers' hands now is all about me," he adds. "But to take off in the enterprise, it has to be about us."

Wearables in the enterprise ripe for developers

Initially, familiarity will play an important role in wearables gaining traction in the enterprise. "A good proportion of the employees who would benefit from these technologies already use similar or comparable devices," says 451's analyst for the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technologies, Ryan Martin. For example, an employee on the manufacturing floor may already be required to wear safety glasses, so upgrading those specs to a pair of smartglasses with augmented reality capabilities could be a logical step for management.

There are a number of areas crying out for application developers in enterprise wearables, notes Morgan Reed, executive director of ACT | The App Association, which represents 5,000 app and information technology companies worldwide. Areas cited by Reed include:

  • Team communication. Apps that allow workers to communicate with each other without a phone or even the use of their hands. Smartwatch developers may want to stay away from this category. "Hands-free tasks limit watches because as much as it's technically hands-free information, you still have to be in a position to see where your wrist is," explains James Moar, a research analyst with Juniper Research.
  • Employee health and wellness. Companies have begun to take more interest in their employees' health, and wearables offer a way for them to do that. "Providing a dashboard would be an important application there," Moar says. "It would allow employees to benchmark their performance goals and also see how they're doing versus everyone else. That's been a big draw for fitness wearables in the consumer space and in the office; it could be used to boost camaraderie and competitiveness of employees using these devices."
  • Health and safety. Wearables could perform functions such as measuring local air quality and providing that information not only to the worker donning the wearable but also to a central location for further analysis. "Increasing productivity and safety are two of the really big drivers for enterprise mobility in general, so wearables that contribute those things will be popular," says 451's Martin.
  • Core enterprise applications. Programs that allow wearables to manage processes or show micro-dashboards of critical information will also be needed by enterprises. "Companies have a lot of money invested in their heritage systems, so applications that allow wearables to connect to those systems will be a big opportunity," notes Juniper's Moar.

Security holds the key

Another area ripe for wearable developers will be security. "Security will be huge for developers," says Darren Guccione, CEO of Keeper Security, which makes a multifactor authentication app for the Apple Watch. He explained that security for wearables is fragmented, which opens up many opportunities for developers. "Security for each device is the responsibility of the device maker," he notes. There are no cohesive standards.

"From what I've seen, at least half the devices on the market are extremely weak and crackable," Guccione says. "That gives newcomers a great opportunity to create high quality security software for connected objects."

The rise of the Industrial IoT

Connected objects are going to be inextricably linked with wearables as the connected world grows. From 2014 to 2019, cellular IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) connections will grow from 252 million to 908 million, 451 Research says. "We expect wearable technology to deliver a key interface and input into the industrial IoT (IIot)," Martin says. "Wearables have the potential to become an interface—if not the interface—for IIoT access."

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