iWatch: Why businesses have one year to get ready

Dismissing smartwatches and wearable computing as a consumer gimmick could mean missing a big opportunity, so businesses should get ready now.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Businesses that think wearable computing is just another consumer gimmick may be missing a big opportunity – and getting plans in place in the next year could be vital.

Tech companies including Microsoft, Google, Samsung and Sony have built smartwatches for years with limited success. These smartwatches tend to function as a second screen for a smartphone, for example offering a way of reading emails or other updates while the phone sits in a pocket, and have so far met with little interest from consumers.

Before the iWatch: A history of smartwatches, in pictures

But as smartphones become ubiquitous (in the UK 85 percent of devices sold are now smartphones) tech companies are looking at new form factors, and this has reignited interest in the devices, as has the success of the Kickstarter-financed Pebble smartwatch, and of course the long standing rumours that Apple is working on such a device.

Indeed, applications from Apple to trademark the iWatch name in Mexico, Taiwan, and Turkey, as well as Japan and Russia, have added to the speculation, with one analyst predicting the decision to move ahead with production may have already been made.

Still, the success of smartwatches this time around is by no means guaranteed, as among other things tech companies will need to convince consumers that they need to start wearing watches again (a market, ironically, killed by the clock on a mobile phone). And other form factors, such as Google Glass, are being tested out by vendors too.

But if they do take off, businesses that ignore the potential of wearable computing devices will kick themselves for missing a big opportunity said Richard Holway, chairman of analyst firm TechMarketView, who warned enterprises not to dismiss wearable devices in the same way that they may have dismissed tablets previously.

"Wearable computing will infect every part of corporate IT – from financial services (think mobile payments) to airlines (think e-tickets) through to healthcare (in my view its biggest market). You can ignore it. But, much more importantly, you could start to take real advantage of it. You probably have a year to get your plans into production," he said.

And he added: "This time Apple will not have the market to itself. We see many devices from armbands to glasses even to implants becoming part of our everyday world in double quick time."


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