Recently, my editorial team and I were discussing an article that claimed Fitbit’s sales struggles bode poorly for the wearables market as a whole. The article cited lackluster 2016 holiday sales of fitness trackers and subsequent layoffs at Fitbit as evidence that the wearables market was “stagnant.” But here’s my point—since when did we give Fitbit so much say over the entire wearables space?
In my mind, wearables have always been so much more than just smartwatches and fitness monitors. The true and overwhelming promise of wearable devices isn’t in the consumer realm at all. Rather, it’s in the enterprise space, where wearable devices will change how industries operate.
Let’s really have a heart-to heart conversation in the industrial arena by discussing where wearables fit into the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things). First, let’s address the issue of slower-than-expected wearable market growth, which is what the article I mentioned earlier was reacting to. IDC (International Data Corp.) released a research report that has some apt analysis of the situation.
The firm suggests wearables aren’t stagnant, and the market certainly is not dead; it’s simply shifting focus. What began as a bunch of single-purpose devices tracking footsteps, for instance, has become something more, and this has happened relatively quickly.
Multi-purpose wearable devices fuse health and fitness capabilities and smartphone notifications, and they open doors to a ton of applications in both business and personal situations. What’s more, new vendors are entering the market with clear intentions for particular enterprise use cases and industries.
We also shouldn’t fail to forget that wearables mean more than just wrist-worn devices.
Wearables also include smart glasses, hearables (wearable devices worn on the ear), and body-worn devices, which could include sensor-enabled clothing. So what kind of market value are we talking here for all of these wearables?
Well, CCS Insight suggests the wearables market will be worth $25 billion by 2019. CCS includes smartwatches and fitness trackers in this assessment in addition to AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) headsets and wearable cameras.
Another estimate, this time from MarketsandMarkets suggests the wearable market will surpass $50 billion by 2022. MarketsandMarkets’ research includes sectors that span not only consumer electronics but also healthcare, enterprise, and industrial. The research points to headwear and eyewear as the product segment with the highest growth potential between now and 2022.
Certainly, the IoT industry seems to anticipate the floodgates of adoption will open in enterprise as AR and VR technology advance and as more sectors discover “killer apps” for various types of wearable devices. But now, let’s look at the industrial space in particular.
Zebra Technologies recently published its 2017 manufacturing vision study, which analyzes emerging trends in industrial manufacturing. It included some interesting insight into enterprise wearables. For instance, the study reveals that half of manufacturers globally say they plan to adopt wearable technology by 2022. That’s within five years—and we all know how quickly five years can fly by.
My point is this: Among other Industry 4.0 and “smart factory” technologies, wearables will become an important strategy for manufacturers looking to achieve a fully connected factory. And all the research I’ve discussed in this column seems to corroborate this hunch.
As I have stated, half of manufacturers that took part in Zebra’s study say they plan to adopt wearable technologies by 2022, and, what’s more, 55% of current wearable users expect to expand their level of usage in the next five years. Why would they make wearables a priority? A couple of reasons. First, wearables offer the opportunity to increase productivity on the plant floor. It’s simply human nature that we tend to rise to the occasion when we know we’re being evaluated, watched, or held accountable for what we do.
Earlier in this column, we looked at fitness wearables. Why do you think these devices are effective? Because they help—possibly even force—wearers to quantify their efforts.
When you’re being “tracked,” and you know data is being collected, it’s hard not to want to perform your best in whatever circumstance. So, for instance, if you’re wearing a Fitbit monitor that’s counting your steps or keeping track of active minutes throughout the day, you’re more likely to take the stairs or make sure you give the device something to track.
A wearable device could have the same effect on workers; I just hope these devices are being used as a motivator and not as a threat. Of course, the strongest use case I’ve seen for wearables in the industrial sector, including manufacturing, is to improve safety.
For instance, some wearable devices and solutions can monitor a person’s physical condition and, if a health hazard or anything else that’s potentially troublesome arises, the system can alert that person’s supervisor and prompt intervention.
Among other opportunities for wearables to transform the production line has to do with employee problem solving and training. Let’s not forget predictive maintenance that optimizes maintenance schedules and avoids unplanned downtime.
AR technologies in particular interest me for their ability to help employees work through a complex problem on the floor with the help of visual data overlaid onto real-life objects. During employee training, the same idea could be applied to cut back on learning curves and get new employees up to speed and confident in their new skills more quickly.
If you’ve ever had a chance to play around with an AR or VR headset, you know what I mean when I say that we haven’t even scratched the surface yet regarding what AR and VR technology could do for us as a society.
Wearables certainly aren’t the whole story here, and I’m going to come back to some of the ways the industrial sector is adopting IoT devices and technologies in another column. This is a point that I think is certainly worth discussing.
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