Salesforce.com: Wearables aren't 'niche' but must go mainstream soon

Salesforce.com's agenda for bringing wearables into the workplace depends on the medium going mainstream first.

SAN FRANCISCO---Convincing consumers and businesses alike that wearables are more than just 4G-powered pedometers and smart watches is easier said than done. 

But the clock is ticking on what many analysts and investors are banking to be a multi-billion, permanent industry rather than just a passing fad form factor.

Aiming to get businesses to think about wearables beyond just health and fitness, Salesforce Wear is Salesforce.com's play at encouraging the development of new business use cases for the emerging mobile channel.

Along with Salesforce1 Lightning and the Salesforce Analytics Cloud unveiled this week, Salesforce Wear is also another intiative to bring more companies into the CRM giant's cloud empire.

"We're a platform business, not just an apps business," stressed Daniel Debow, senior vice president of Emerging Technologies at Salesforce, during a panel on Wednesday.

The Bay Area-headquartered corporation is relying on the IHS projection that more than 50 million wearable devices will be sold this year, ballooning to more than 180 million by 2018. Salesforce reps also cited a Gartner forecast that wearables will drive at least half of total mobile app interactions by 2017.

If all of that is not enough of a headache-inducer, Salesforce executives have also been batting around the Gartner prediction that roughly 50 percent of all data traffic generated in the next two years will derive from wearables.

"It needs to enable the worker to do more," asserted Accenture analyst Brent Blum, who defined it is the "the hands-free context" that separates wearables.

Thus, Debow acknowledged that timing is everything, which is why Salesforce has been so vocal about connected apps and devices over the last year.

"If we wait, it's too late," Debow quipped, explaining that if Salesforce knows the dominant mode and applications, it will be too late already to innovate.

Debow observed a key hurdle to fueling wearables adoption is finding and shining a light on the differences from smartphones and tablets. He insisted wearables aren't "niche," but Salesforce.com's agenda for bringing wearables into the workplace still depends on the medium going mainstream first.

"It needs to enable the worker to do more," asserted Accenture analyst Brent Blum, who defined it is the "the hands-free context" that separates wearables.

For example, construction workers on site can get instant updates just by glancing at his or her wrist without having to reach around and turn on a smartphone. The same could be said about grocery store employees stocking shelves or bellhops assisting and shuffling guests outside of busy hotels.

"Clearly we don't have every answer yet," Debow admitted, acknolwedging that Salesforce Wear -- much like the wearables space overall -- is still in its infancy. 

At the moment, Salesforce Wear already supports a dozen devices and platforms, including ARM, Google Glass, Android Wear, Peopple, and Fitbit. Salesforce Wear apps are also available on the Software-as-a-Service provider's AppExchange digital marketplace.

When pressed to guess, Debow replied he thinks wearables will go mainstream within the next 12 to 24 months. Blum was a bit more conservative on his estimate, projecting a few more years for the consumer market but suggesting the enterprise market is already ripe for the opportunity.

Perhaps answering a chicken-and-egg scenario, Alpine Metrics CEO Erik Udstuen reflected the vertical bloom once there is a "critical mass of apps," enabling managers to be able to run businesses and teams from a single wearable device versus only when paired with a smartphone or tablet.

Debow pegged the scheduled launch of the Apple Watch in early 2015 as key date in this roadmap. "I don't know about you, but I don't want to bet against Apple," he grinned.

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