The enterprise wearables market is proving to be more complex and in some ways more exciting than the bring your own device (BYOD) sector to which it often is compared.
The wearable market overall had a good first quarter, according to IDC. The leading companies, Xiaomi and Apple, enjoyed double digit percentage growth. Overall, about 24.7 million devices shipped, a 17.9 percent increase from the 20.9 million shipped during the year-ago quarter.
The list of the top five companies shows Xiaomi barely beating Apple in market share (14.7 percent to 14.6 percent), followed by Fitbit (12.3 percent), Samsung (5.5 percent) and Garmin (4.6 percent), IDC found. The percentages fluctuated widely compared to last year’s first quarter and, perhaps most significantly, just a shade under half (48.2 percent) are in the “other” category, which suggests a young, robust and volatile industry.
The similarity to the BYOD sector, of course, is the intimate relationship of the devices to their owners. That, perhaps a bit surprisingly, is more or less where the similarity ends.
BYOD gradually emerged from an established consumer market. The main driver was the simple fact that people tend to naturally use their own devices for work-related tasks. The wearables sector, on the other hand, is not an organic outgrowth of an existing market. Another difference is that smartphones are general, all-purpose devices. While each brand and model has strengths and weaknesses, they perform roughly the same set of tasks. Wearables, on the other hand, are specific. Smart glasses, smart watches and smart fibers are different items.
More Efficiency and New Capabilities
Wearables offer a wide array of benefits to enterprises in a broad category, according to Neil Mawston, the executive director of Strategy Analytics’ Global Wireless Practice.
“Basic apps are the low-hanging fruit today for enterprise wearables, such as talking, messaging, and navigating,” he wrote in response to questions from IT Business Edge. “For example, a road warrior can make a phone call or use maps on a smartwatch to visit a client’s office.”
In the future, many wearables will focus on health care. For example, Mawston wrote, a “healthband” on the wrist or chest would monitor vital signs and use algorithms or AI to flag employees who are falling ill and recommend steps to be taken.
Both the enterprise and consumer subsectors are growing. Eric Abbruzzese, a principal analyst for ABI Research, told IT Business Edge that the two most successful wearable technologies are excelling in different areas.
“The consumer market is definitely ahead of the enterprise market for smart watches, with the opposite true for smart glasses,” he wrote. “Both consumer and smart glass markets are poised for the strongest and longest lasting growth in the enterprise.”
Smart watches are a good example of the vast enterprise potential of wearables. Eric McCarty, the vice president of Mobile Product Marketing for the Business Unit of Samsung Electronics America, told IT Business Edge that smart watches are best suited for the enterprise. Some examples: Police departments can be sent a signal if an officer’s weapon is fired, hotel staff can be alerted when a guest requests room service, janitorial services can get a signal when a predetermined number of people have used the rest room and it needs to be cleaned, and restaurant wait staffs can be alerted when an order is ready or a diner wants to order.
Smart Glasses, Smart Watches
There will be increasing issues, especially on the security front, as wearables grow in the enterprise. Though they won’t explode, a broad base is now being created. “[The future] is bright on both the glasses and watches front,” Abbruzzese wrote. “Smart glasses are poised for very strong growth overall, mostly driven by [the] enterprise. Smart glasses are targeting the enterprise space first, mostly due to ROI potential and relevant use cases being more applicable to enterprise users.”
Abbruzzese feels that smart watches will thrive. “After some success in the consumer market, enterprises are increasingly looking to smart watches for similar outcomes to smart glasses: hands-free information, increase in worker efficiency and safety, etc. This will continue as pilot phases and early adopters scale up.” Abbruzzese suggests that compound annual growth rate of shipments will be more than 200 percent for last year through 2021.
Smart watches and smart glasses almost certainly will continue to be the most common wearables. But niches, such as materials used to make clothing and that can detect dangerous fumes, heat or illness, will become stable.
The wearables category overall will grow in size and innovation, though the growth won’t be as uniform as the BYOD category it resembles. “We forecast less than 1 percent of the world’s companies will use wearables for enterprise usage in 2017,” Mawston wrote. “Enterprise wearables today are a niche but emerging market. There is huge potential for long-term growth in enterprise wearables from the current low base.”
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at email@example.com and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.