If you’d been around 114 years ago and happened to have some spare cash to invest, you might have been tempted to buy stock in one of several electric cars. After all, electric cars outsold by a wide margin all other types of cars (gasoline- and steam-powered, mainly) amid considerable hype.
Flash forward to today and “wearable technology” is getting the same kind of hype. But will the much talked-about Google Glass and Samsung Gear products become big hits and dramatically transform both the IT world and the way real people use technology to negotiate their way through the world more efficiently and effectively?
Or will wearable technology go the way of the electric car of yesteryear? Their sales began to nosedive after the 1908 introduction of the world’s first massed-produced, inexpensive gasoline-powered car, the Ford Model T. Only now are they threatening a return.
As the manager or owner of a small or midsize business considering your future IT needs and spending, you are in somewhat of a similar position to those at the turn of the 20th century who were considering investing in electric cars. Do you go all-in on new desktops, laptops, tablets and smart phones – and on the technologies needed to support their use, or do you steer some significant portion of your IT budget over the next few years toward the acquisition and development of uses for wearables?
An IT Question with Future Implications
It’s not as frivolous a question as it might appear at first. If you and your company take a pass while wearables revolutionize the business world, you risk losing both a big cost-savings and/or revenue losing advantage to one or more of your competitors. But if you invest too heavily, you risk not only increasing your own operating costs but also distracting your employees and possibly alienating customers.
Before we go too far down this road, let’s first stop and consider realities and possibilities of the wearables revolution. The ballyhooed Google Glass product is not officially on the market yet, though about 8,000 influential geeks are using the eye glasses-style device in a kind of super beta test phase. Google, which failed to meet its promise to put its Glass product on the market in 2014, now says it will go on sale sometime this year.
Conversely, Samsung’s Gear smart watch has been on the market for about a year now, and so far its sales have been, to be kind, underwhelming. Analysts and experts in both the IT and fashion world say that’s because it is an ancillary device that works only as an extension of a smartphone that the user must also carry. Wearables makers have not yet figured out how to make them either practical or fashionable – let alone both at once.
Yet predictions of wearables’ future triumph in the market abound. BCC Research says the wearables market will grow to $30.2 billion by 2018. ABI Research predicts that 485 million wearable devices will be sold annually by the same year.
If Wearables Prevail, How Will SMBs be Affected?
So how are you, the owner or manager of a small or midsize business, to proceed amid such contradictory signals and a general lack of clarity?
One hedge is to seek the expertise of third-party IT professionals who know your industry and can cut through the fog of hype and promotion on the one hand, and who can, on the other hand, realistically analyze what opportunities can be tapped via new technology and what costs will be entailed.
But there are some practical things you can do on your own right now to become better informed:
- Pay attention to the growth and development of wearable technology. Read technology news reports and magazine stories on the subject, and keep an eye on those companies that do adopt the use of wearables; and they don’t have to be companies that work in your product or service category.
- Understand how to get the most out of existing mobile technologies like smart phones, tablets, phablets and special purpose hand-held devices. Though the smart phone is approaching its 10th birthday many – maybe even most – companies only now beginning to learn how to access their full capabilities for business. Still others are only now beginning to look seriously into using mobile technology in their operations. If you aren’t getting the max out of existing technology, are you any more likely to quickly reap the benefits of jumping to the next (maybe) big thing?
- Conduct your own experiments. Two of the absolute advantages of small and midsize businesses are their flexibility and nimbleness. Acquire a wearable device or two, or three, and give them to some of your sharpest workers in key operational positions. Ask them to try to use the wearables as alternatives to existing technologies and/or to find ways that the wearables can or might be used to do things more accurately, more efficiently or more effectively.
Ultimately, wearable technology might turn out to be the type of dead-end or way-before-its-time technology that the electric car circa 1900 turned out to be. Or it really could be the Next Big Thing that could give your business a huge boost.
Your challenge is become informed enough to make the right call at the right time.