Getting a grip on enterprise wearable apps

By Adam Spearing, VP Platform EMEA,

While the market for wearable devices is arguably just getting started, few would contend that there’s plenty of time for enterprise development teams to get a grip on the wave of new devices heading into their organisations. Consider this: The analyst firm IHS estimates that more than 180 million wearable devices are likely to be sold in 2018, up from 50 million anticipated to sell this year.

And it’s certainly not just about consumer gadgets: with such a wave of wearables coming to market, it’s crucial that enterprises know how their customers and employees will use these devices for work, play, and to otherwise improve their lives.

Not surprisingly, there are significant enterprise applications for wearables, with many already in action and use cases now being developed − and we think exponentially more haven’t even been conceived yet.

Still, getting wearable app development right is tricky for enterprise development teams. It’s a set of challenges that involves not only the new tiny and hands-free form factor, but also the new user interfaces, user experiences, and even application use cases. And, as a nascent market, the hardware and operating systems and interfaces that drive it will change very quickly.

While that’s quite the moving target, it’s also where the opportunity lies for enterprise developers to grab the early ground.

So how can enterprise developers seize this early ground? That will be done by answering enterprise-specific user needs to boost productivity and enhance the lives of users – while successfully designing for these new platforms.

In some industries, like healthcare, field services, new employee, or training and others, the use cases for hands-free computing are obvious. In others, internal development teams may have to be inventive and create some apps to watch what their users embrace and iterate from there.

Consider contextually aware productivity applications. Wearables enable executives, salespeople, and others to stay more connected to digital updates while also being more present in the meetings and tasks in the physical world. Glancing at a mobile phone, staring into a tablet, or flipping open a notebook during meetings is distracting; an almost unnoticeable glance at a watch or wristband and nearly silent alerts can relay information without such distraction.

When it comes to field service, wearables probably provide the greatest boost of effectiveness since the laptop PC: service people, whether providing industrial equipment or medical device repair, are able to access the most recent data as they work, while also visibly sharing what they’re working on with anyone who needs to watch – fully hands free.

When looking for tools to develop your wearable apps, it’s important to find a platform that enables you to create apps that can connect to your existing data and business processes, perhaps so executives can be notified when an e-signature is needed, or perhaps linked to a building access control system.

One big challenge when building such systems is to know what popular visible and auditory modalities users will embrace. What are the communication channels you are going to be using to share data and communicate with the user? You certainly don’t want to create incremental intrusions to the alerts that already come from phones and other devices. The reality is that you will likely, along with the rest of the industry, have to experiment before discovering the best UX.

It’s clear to see that watches and glasses will have very different UIs, just because of the nature of their form factor. Currently, the Google Glass UI is very linear, like working through a stack of cards. Smart watch UIs, because of the size of their touch screens, are much different. Enterprise developers need to realise that wearables are a design project, unlike web apps, which are more or less a development project, with a bit of design.

This is one reason why the quality of wearable app development toolsets, such as the Salesforce Wear SDK, is so important. You want to be able to design wearable apps that can connect to enterprise data in the cloud, and connect to most any form factors that users need.  When designing, it’s important to keep the amount of notifications down to a limit; only a subset of the most important notifications should be – or are relevant and need to be – sent to the wearable devices.

As an enterprise app developer, you’ll want to start simple when developing your apps. That is, you want to target a pointed problem or challenge – and make it easier to achieve through your wearable app. Additionally, just as mobile apps often refer users to desktop applications for additional capabilities, wearables often will link to the phone and tablets for additional information.

That’s where much of the initial opportunities lie: extending the value of users’ current devices. It’s worth making the development and design efforts now, because the demand for wearable apps is very likely to grow as rapidly as the smart phone app did in its early days.

Picture credit: DG Jones/Fickr in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

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