Body-worn Enterprise Wearables: Where's the Love?

Written BY

Emily Friedman

March 29, 2017

Smart glasses, VR headsets and even smart (AR) helmets have been stealing the spotlight when it comes to enterprise wearables, which begs the question: Why haven’t devices worn below the neck taken off in the workplace?

Perhaps smart glasses for enterprise took off faster precisely because the consumer market did not, because there wasn’t a strong enough consumer demand for – or real consumer interest in – smart eyewear (remember the Glass backlash.) Enterprises, however, expressed a lot of interest – chiefly doctors and field service companies – encouraging the solution providers to re-direct their efforts a la Google. But there is a consumer wearables market, mainly for wrist devices; and while this may be an uncertain market, hardware makers seem to be focusing their efforts where they believe lies the greater or more immediate demand. Of course, this is just one theory based upon one person’s observation. Additional theories are welcome, for this is truly puzzling to an enterprise wearable tech advocate such as myself.

Why are wrist wearables manufacturers overlooking the enterprise? Is there hope for wrist- and body-worn wearables beyond corporate wellness? Smart bands, watches, clothing, badges and other accessories–how can real workers use these devices? Are they only “good for” collecting data; and why does ABI Research believe body-worn wearables are the future of enterprise wearable tech? Furthermore, how should we define this category of wearables? Do exoskeletons count? What about smart patches, ingestibles, and basic body-worn sensors?

What ABI actually predicts is that the enterprise wearables market will soon see a shift from wrist- to body-worn devices; with the latter consisting of head-worn devices like smart glasses and VR headsets, as well as wearable cameras, hearables, smart clothing, and mHealth devices. It’s interesting that the research firm breaks the wearables category down to wrist and body, or the wrist and everything else that isn’t worn on the wrist. But how can this shift occur when to my knowledge the body-worn segment (if it includes head-worn devices) is currently much stronger than the wrist, even when you take into account that ABI considers wearable scanners as wrist devices.

As an enterprise wearable tech enthusiast, I see all wearable tech products through a certain (enterprise-colored) lens, always thinking to myself “How might a field or desk worker use this device?” It can be frustrating to demo a wearable or read about a company whose product – in my eyes – could have great enterprise potential yet the marketing is so clearly consumer-focused. For example, consider a body wearable that monitors posture–there are a number of such devices being marketed to consumers, along with smart wristbands and other jewelry that measure motion sickness or that are designed to enhance the wearer’s mental health and emotional wellbeing. The advertising encourages consumers to wear these devices while going about their everyday lives, and especially at the gym. Wearing them to the office or on the job is not an explicitly mentioned use case, so chances are that an enterprise organization that might really benefit from providing posture- or stress-monitoring wearables to its employees is not aware of all the device offerings out there.

Enterprises are being sold on smart glasses and some are using smart wristbands for EHS purposes (see 3 Great Use Cases of Wearable Tech for EHS), but for the most part smart eyewear is dominating the enterprise wearables discussion. Are smart glasses seen as a more worthwhile investment because they boast many features and can be used in multiple ways within a single organization; while a simple wristband containing sensors that measure various aspects of the wearer’s health has more limited applications? Is it because wristbands aren’t as glamorous as AR glasses? Or because to actually make use of the data from a wristband to detect and prevent work-related health hazards requires data analytics and has deeper privacy implications? Is it a failure to see the potential of these devices, either on the hardware or end user side? Again, additional theories are welcome.

But there is hope for a shift. Consider the Nymi story: The Nymi band is an authentication device that was originally marketed to consumers. The technology uses the wearer’s heartbeat as a biometric identifier for authentication. When we first learned of the device, we saw enormous enterprise potential but it wasn’t for a few years that the company itself noticeably changed course, beginning to more heavily promote the band as a solution for securely accessing devices, applications and physical spaces in the workplace.

My prediction is that more consumer-focused body wearable companies are going to follow Nymi’s example in recognizing and addressing enterprise needs for their technologies. Consumer-like smart wristbands and body-worn sensors, as well as smart clothing in the form of work gear and uniforms, will find their place in the enterprise over the next five years. The enterprise is just too great of a market to be ignored.

Further Reading