In their maturation, they offer new strategic channel opportunities
Over the past few years, wearables have swung from gimmicks and simple sports trackers towards becoming more cutting-edge with greater capabilities. These more sophisticated wearables are finding new uses in the home, whether for a young child, active millennial, boomer, or if caring for an aging parent. Now, wearables are also driving workplace productivity and well-being in sectors such as manufacturing and logistics, as well as in non-industrial settings such as health, retail, law enforcement, travel, financial services, and real estate.
While wearables offer new business development opportunities, it’s imperative that successful channel strategies need to move out of their ‘comfort zone’ -- and reliance on ‘consumers’ and ‘eye-candy.’ One question that strategic assessment of business opportunities now needs to take into account is: What are the most popular business sectors in your communities or region?
Advancements in technology are enabling engineers and designers to think differently about innovations for wearables. It’s impacting change that is leading to more compelling product design and capabilities. Technology has come a long way, when it comes to longer battery life and small and flexible battery form factors, new protocols like Bluetooth Low Energy, and emerging new form factors like flexible displays.
Technologies such as robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) are driving enterprise adoption of wearables, and are improving their viability and utility. The hardware, including sensor modules, smart glasses, and exosuits, is getting smaller, lighter, and more affordable. A growing ability to capture and process complex data in real time, including voice and gestures, is making wearables easier to use. And vendor offerings of wearables-as-a-service and as end-to-end solutions are making them easier for enterprises to adopt.
The Holidays are Coming
Since we are on the cusp of the holiday season, these technological innovations are manifesting themselves in a slew of new products. Here are several highlights.
Consider the Fitbit Charge 3, recently introduced. While it now sports a premium swim-proof design - its seven-day battery, among other features, is what sets it apart. Separately, the company touted an upcoming app called Sleep Score for Fitbit units. It helps users understand the quality of their sleep and watch for developing issues, like sleep apnea.
The MSRP of the Charge 3 is $149.95, and includes features previously only on Fitbit’s more expensive Versa and Ionic models. For an extra $20, Charge 3 customers can also have Fitbit Pay, which allows a user to literally tap into pay partners.
Also coming soon to the Charge 3 are health-tracking features that will allow women to “gain a deeper understanding” of their menstrual cycle by logging the timing of their period and ovulation, and compare symptoms and cycles over time.
In other recent news, LG gave its sports signature neckband-style headphones some smart assistant love. Its next generation LG Tone Platinum SE headphones will include a dedicated Google Assistant button for quicker user access. LG is also talking about the potential it has to be used for smart features like Google Translate to make communicating in another language faster and more natural. Other features are also included.
Google’s smartwatch Wear OS got a new look in August. It provides quicker access to information and more proactive quality-of-life features. The new Fit app for phones and smartwatches shifts the focus away from counting steps to an emphasis on chasing activity goals. Google now refers to this as Move Minutes and Heart Points.
A New Target: Young Kids
Once again, Garmin teamed up with Disney for its Vivofit jr 2 kids fitness tracker styled for aspiring Disney Ariel and Jasmine wannabe princesses. They join themed designs such as Star Wars, Minnie Mouse and Marvel Avengers. These wearables aimed at ages 4+ are designed to keep kids off the couch, active and meeting activity goals. They feature a waterproof design, color screen and a one-year battery life. They all include activity tracking including automatic sleep monitoring. A Move Bar displays periods of inactivity, and it’ll store four-weeks of data if one forgets to sync it to the companion app.
To keep kids motivated, racking up steps and doing chores unlocks ways to earn rewards. There’s a slew of other features including setting reminders from the app to remember to brush teeth before bed or do those weekly chores, and much more. The MSRP is $79.99 – and if your special someone wants to also be Minnie Mouse, optional themed bands retail for $29.99.
Earlier in the summer, the Fitbit Ace fitness tracker for kids aged 8+ was also introduced. All other Fitbits are currently designed for ages 13+. It’s ventured into wearables for children after its own research discovered that 85 percent of parents they surveyed were interested in getting a tracker for their kids. The Ace looks exactly like the one grownups wear – but with more basic features like step counting and sleep monitoring. As a way of motivating staying active and health, it also emphasizes collecting badges and challenges.
Wearables as a Solution for an Aging Population
The health space is a large, growing market where technology can help address the needs of aging consumers, their caregivers, payers and providers. Today, there are approximately 50 million Americans over age 65, a number that is expected to increase by more than 50 percent within the next 20 years.
What are your demographics? Are there seniors or senior centers in your locale? We’re beginning to see how wearables are helping to monitor and manage chronic diseases, as well as safety for an aging population.
Healthcare is becoming more consumer-centric. With the Affordable Care Act (ACA), higher deductible plans and new technologies, patients are turning into savvy healthcare consumers, with higher expectations around service and experience. Big tech and other companies are placing bets on technologies to improve the consumer experience and make it more accessible, affordable and personalized.
The profileration of mobile phones has also helped consumerize healthcare. Mobile allows people to monitor their health outside of hospital walls, especially through wearables, which collect data and sync to mobile interfaces for tracking and analysis.
Recently, BestBuy acquired GreatCall, known for its Jitterbug phone and personal emergency response wearables and service. Best Buy currently has a growing business selling health- and wellness-related products. It also has recently been investing in health-related initiatives focused on the aging population that have included the participation of several of the nation’s leading health care providers and insurers. The acquisition of GreatCall will augment Best Buy’s existing efforts in the health space, help bring compelling solutions to more customers, and help fuel Best Buy’s further growth in the consumer and commercial markets.
Wearable tech in healthcare extends to everything ranging from clothing, wearable sensors and wristbands that monitor movement, blood pressure devices, pulse oximeters, control units like from Honeywell and others -- to indigestible pills with an embedded sensor that allow doctors to ensure people are taking their medicine.
Wearables in the Workplace
While wearable tech has the potential to transform our personal lives, we’re likely to see a lot more wearable tech in the workplace over the next few years. Making workers more productive and more capable is the promise of wearable technologies.
Early signs suggest that wearables could have a significant impact on the workforce and the companies that employ them. A new generation of wearable technologies is giving workers superhuman strength, endurance, vision, hearing, and awareness.
The global market for enterprise wearables, including smartwatches, smart glasses, hearables exoskeletons and wearable scanners and so on, is expected to grow 41 percent annually to exceed $60 billion by 2022, according to Deloitte.
It’s particularly important to understand how this plays out at a time of rapid technological change and one in which the workforce is changing in important ways. For instance, employers face shortages of employees with desired skills, the workforce is aging, remote working is on the rise, and regulators are carefully scrutinizing workplace safety.
Wearable technologies such as smartwatches, smart glasses, hearables, and exoskeletons can help company executives navigate these challenges by augmenting workers’ physical and perceptual capabilities, amplifying their physical strength, lucidly conveying detailed task instructions, if needed, facilitating virtual interactions, and alerting for hazards. All of this has the potential to significantly boost productivity and safety.
Technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) can also make collaboration more cost-effective by giving people the ability to see remote activities in real time. While repairing equipment at bottling plants, Coca-Cola technicians use smart glasses to share their visuals with remotely located experts for advice. This reduces delays and costs involved in flying in those specialists to the site. Similarly, AR is also being implemented for enhanced health capabilities in remote and rural locales, where physicians might be scarce.
For law enforcement, body-worn cameras are increasingly commonplace. Smart glasses with facial recognition technology are among the next wearable devices expected to transform the work of police.
Are there warehouses in your region? Supply chain managers are currently using wearable tech to quickly and conveniently monitor operations – or to receive alerts when specific events require their attention. It enables them to immediately communicate updates to other employees using the same device. Wearable devices can provide contextual data about the work an employee is engaged in, which boosts productivity and minimizes risk, particularly in picking, stacking and general order fulfilment. But perhaps the biggest advantage they offer is saving time. Since all the information they need housed on the person, it frees employees of the need to constantly refer back to the database on their computer or the filing cabinet in their office.
Field service management is another sector where the value proposition for wearable tech is high, since employees are constantly on the move and away from the office. This can impact the way field services are delivered and managed. Just consider that if field personnel can view all the relevant information about tasks like remote equipment installation and repairs on a device, it can drastically reduce the number of errors committed by field service operators. At the other end of the chain, field service management teams are able to track metrics like the location, heart rate and temperature of their workers on connected devices.
Corporate wellness programs are allocating wearables as data-driven motivators that may be able to improve the health and reduce healthcare costs. For instance, with Fitbit, the Dayton Regional Transit Authority helped employees improve glucose and cholesterol levels while saving more than $2 million in health care costs. One projection sees 90 percent of enterprise wellness initiatives including fitness trackers by 2021. Similarly, other corporations are giving away Apple smartwatches – and insurance companies are now starting to cover these costs.
Wearable tech is on the upswing, but we’re still at the beginnings of this ‘category.’ It has the potential of becoming an even bigger business, as smartwatches, smart wristbands, fitness and activity trackers, smart garments and clothing, various AR/VR headsets as well as other wearables gain greater functionality and deliver greater value. By the time this is published, Apple will likely have made new headlines with the introduction of a new Apple Watch series.
Wearables hold the potential for impacting the way people live, work and spend leisure time. They can enrich lives by addressing key human needs. Consider the good that wearable products, services and solutions can do by addressing the growing needs of an aging population. Strategically targeting new sectors portends new business development opportunities across the wearables ecosystem. These are exciting times.
Have an exciting new innovation? Susan Schreiner can be reached at email@example.com