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How to make wearables that people actually want

What new wearable devices will be unveiled in 2015? As I write, developers and designers are hunkered down building the next generation of gadgets. It’s an exciting time with the wearables market still at its infancy, yet poised for tremendous growth – with the value expected to hit $12.6 billion (£8.2 million) by 2018 according to Business Insider.

The big question is: which devices and apps will have staying power?

We’ve seen a slew of wearables launched over the past 18 months promising to transform how we live. From smart watches to smart glasses, the development game is on to see just how intelligent these devices can be.

How do people use wearables?

While some jumped on the wearables bandwagon early – sporting their devices like a badge of honour – many of those same devices have ended up in the back of a dark dresser drawer. New research by Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC), “The Wearable Future”, found that while 22 per cent of Americans own a wearable device, 33 per cent who purchased wearable technology more than a year ago no longer use the device at all or use it infrequently.

So, what do we want? The same PwC survey revealed that 77 per cent of respondents said an important benefit of wearable technology is its potential to make us more efficient and more productive at work. In a society that is tied to the workplace more than ever – spending more hours at the office, taking shorter vacations and retiring later – any tools that can make us more productive and efficient have the potential to take the market by storm.

Case in point: the smartphone. Now deemed by most employees as a must-have productivity tool, Good Technology estimates that by 2017, 328 million workers will bring their smartphones to work – up from 132 million in 2013. But it’s not the phones themselves that are making a lasting impact on how we work, it’s the mobile apps. Good Technology found that as smartphone adoption rose last year, so did the adoption of enterprise apps – with activations up 54 per cent in Q4 2013 over the previous quarter.

What consumers actually want

Wearable designers and developers have to look no further than current apps on the market that successfully enable mobile workforces to get a better understanding of what’s needed to set their designs apart. Empowering employees to work smarter and better depends on apps that support five key ingredients:

  • Ease of use: 83 per cent of respondents in the PwC survey cited simplification and ease of technology as a key potential benefit of wearable devices. If an app isn’t intuitive and easy to use, employees will quickly lose interest and turn to other workplace tools to get their jobs done.
  • Connect to enterprise content: Being able to access work-related content when needed is a must to be productive. Wearable devices designed for enterprise use have to support anytime, anywhere access to the most up-to-date business information.
  • Address security head-on: The same PwC survey found that 86 per cent of respondents were concerned that wearables would make them more vulnerable to security breaches. Ensuring that both personal data and proprietary enterprise data is protected has to be a top priority for developers. This will require multiple layers of security, proper encryption and air-tight data storage.
  • Play well with the smartphone:When PwC respondents were asked if they’d need their wearable device to replace an existing piece of technology in order to justify its purchase, 76 per cent of respondents said no. Wearable technology needs to integrate with existing enterprise technology, including smartphones, tablets and PCs.
  • Build a strong community: Creating and tapping into an active wearables developer community is critical to success, leveraging mobile SDKs, an open approach to APIs, the rapid creation of mobile apps using the native platform of choice.

The bottom line: wearable designers should keep their eye on the prize – building devices with business applications in mind that will ultimately boost workplace productivity and the efficiency of organisations, without compromising the security of their information.

By Claire Galbois-Alcaix, cloud solutions director at Accellion