Wearables are everywhere, but are they part of BYOD?

The wearables market is booming and growing. In 2015, consumers purchased an estimated 72.1 million wearables. The question is, "Are wearables part of BYOD?"

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The short answer currently to the question is "No". The longer answer is "Maybe". The super, crystal ball, future answer is "Probably". The reason that wearables are not currently part of BYOD is that they simply are too simple. The only connectivity they have now is to an app or apps on a mobile device via Bluetooth. But the future, both near and long term, for more connected wearables is on the way. This post examines wearables as business devices, especially for BYOD applications.

IDC predicted that the worldwide wearables market would grow by 173.3% in 2015 with 72.1 million units to be shipped. If its prediction is correct, by 2019, there will be more than 155 million units shipping. Mobile device management (MDM) software vendors will have to respond quickly as soon as wearables become an integral part of business as usual. By quickly, I mean that the MDM software will have to support these devices as soon as the first ones attach to a network.

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Wearables do not currently pose much of a challenge for mobile device administrators, but they will in the very near future. Once developers create business apps for wearables, system administrators will have to move in to further protect their systems from potential malware infections from rogue and jailbroken devices.

For an example of a BYOD wearable, consider that instead of clipping on an ID badge for building entry and exit or for data center access, the virtual badge will be installed on a wearable, such as a watch that, when in proximity to the secure door, will connect and authenticate allowing the employee to enter.

The same ID app could be used for network authentication and for single sign-on.

It's easy to imagine that a single user could bring in five or more devices to an employer network that require some sort of management and control. A laptop, a tablet, a mobile phone, a smartwatch, a wearable ID badge, a fitness band that also has network connectivity, and even a connected headset, such as Google Glass. For companies that allow BYOD, it will become more difficult to make the distinction between user freedom and corporate control, especially since many workplaces offer benefits such as on-site fitness rooms, on-site daycare, and non-cubicle-based workspaces.

The Top Five Wearables Vendors as of August 2015 (IDC):

  1. Fitbit
  2. Apple
  3. Xiaomi
  4. Garmin
  5. Samsung

So far, the only wristband wearable in the market with real BYOD business potential is the Apple Watch. But even the Apple Watch is a primitive tool by true BYOD standards. For the Watch or any other wearable to be useful in a business setting, it will have to do more than text, record daily activity, display time, and provide calendar notifications; it will have to interact with the network itself.

Top Five Wearables Vendors, Shipments, Market Share and Year-Over-Year Growth, Q2 2015 (Units in Millions)

Vendor

2Q15 Shipment Volume

2Q15 Market Share

2Q14 Shipment Volume

2Q14 Market Share

2Q15/2Q14 Growth

1. Fitbit

4.4

24.3%

1.7

30.4%

158.8%

2. Apple

3.6

19.9%

0

0.0%

%

3. Xiaomi

3.1

17.1%

0

0.0%

%

4. Garmin

0.7

3.9%

0.5

8.9%

40.0%

5. Samsung

0.6

3.3%

0.8

14.3%

-25.0%

Others

5.7

31.5%

2.6

46.4%

119.2%

Total

18.1

100.0%

5.6

100.0%

223.2%

Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, August 27, 2015

The wearables market is big, but the business applications market is bigger, but as yet almost entirely untapped (pun intended).

Some business applications that wearables vendors should consider:

  • Virtual ID Badges
  • Wireless access point authentication for a user's devices
  • Single sign-on for corporate devices and sites
  • Instant voice communications between similar devices (Think Star Trek Communicator)
  • Voice command tethering for laptop and desktop computers

I've already discussed the virtual ID badge application. Wireless access point authentication for a user's devices means that once a user's wearable/watch has authenticated with an access point, then the user's other devices can piggyback on that authentication for hassle-free connectivity. Single sign-on would work pretty much the same way in that once the wearable has been authenticated, through some user interaction, then that authentication allows the user access via proximity to network and computing assets and resources.

Wouldn't it be cool if you could talk to someone via your wearable on a private (secure) channel by simply exchanging a token between you? You could share data, have a conversation, and add other people to the conversation/conference.

For the voice command tethering idea, I want to be able to unlock my computer by proximity with my wearable and have it open applications or perform some tasks just by speaking those tasks through my wearable. Yes, it would work the same as something like Dragon Naturally Speaking does, but just natively in the device. Of course the devices would have a secure channel for these communications.

So, the answer is "No", wearable aren't yet part of BYOD, but they soon will be and MDM vendors and businesses should be ready to respond, vet devices, and setup rules to control access.

What do you think of wearables entering the corporate workplace? Do you think they will revolutionize the workplace? What do you expect from MDM vendors in this space? Talk back and let me know.

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