The debate has been around as long as wearable computing devices, which is to say more than two decades: can something cool and trendy also be useful and feasible in a B2B setting? So far, the answer has been a resounding "meh, not really".
Sure, wearable computing is having a break-out year in terms of buzz, but when folks start taking a hard look at what the gear can do in a business environment, the reviews are often pretty tepid, or worse.
The fact is from Reflection Technology's Private Eye in the late 1980s through Motorola's HC1 and on to today's Google Glass, FitBit and Samsung's Galaxy Gear, wearable computing has had a tough time making its case for a spot on the B2B tech lineup.
All the more reason that Salesforce.com's release last week of new developer tools to support wearable computing at work should be of interest to anyone keeping an eye on this ever-nascent space with an eye toward finding a sweet sport for the channel to promote and benefit from these devices.
Is the Salesforce.com effort enough to bring wearable into the B2B mainstream? Some experts think so.
The Salesforce Wear Developer Pack for the Salesforce1 platform puts free, business-focused applications tools and reference apps on a trusted, enterprise cloud platform into the hands of 1.5m Salesforce1 developers in the hopes that they can kick start the building and deploying of new enterprise wearable computing applications.
The Wear Developer Pack currently supports a short list of the most popular devices on the market including Google Glass, Android Wear, Samsung Gear 2, FitBit, Myo, Nymi, OMsignal and Pebble.
"Salesforce's move into this space both validates the enterprise wearables market and will spur it forward even more quickly," says Forrester principal analyst JP Gownder.
Gownder adds that Salesforce.com partners -- systems integrators like Capgemini, Deloitte, Infosys, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Tata Consulting Services -- will now have an incentive to expand implementations of wearables and add them as end points to mobile implementations.
"The reference applications and tools will allow enterprises to jump directly to the business of innovating, rather than spending time coding the fundamentals," Gownder adds.
Daniel Debow, SVP for emerging technologies at Salesforce.com, calls wearable computing the "next phase of the mobile revolution".
"With Salesforce Wear, companies can now capture the massive opportunity these devices offer to connect with customers in new ways," Debow says.
"All of these new devices have different application architectures, UX patterns and data flows," adds Adam Seligman, Salesforce.com vice president of developer relations.
"The Wear Developer Pack handles the identity, secure API access and plumbing necessary to connect the device to the Salesforce1 Platform, letting the developer focus on innovative new use cases."
For now, Salesforce.com's sample ideas for wearable computing apps range from the frivolous - mobile payment and VIP access for casino high rollers and fitness challenges for healthy workforces - to more practical fare such as sales, customer service and remote technical support.
A run-down of potential wearable computing apps described in the Wear Developer Pack announcement includes smart watch functions that can give sales reps critical details on clients before and during meetings without the distraction of checking a smartphone or opening a laptop.
Other uses could include apps remote service technicians, such as oil rig workers or medical device reps to access live, hands-free information on the equipment they are fixing and for getting real-time coaching and sharing feedback with managers and trainers.
Visions of wearable computing uses such as these are a big part of the reason analyst firms like IDC have remained bullish on the market. IDC claims the wearable market is emerging from early-adopter phase on its way to becoming an industry mainstay.
The analyst firm expects there to be some 19m wearable tech units shipping worldwide by the end of this year and something like 112m by 2018, an annual growth rate of more than 78 per cent.
"Perpetually connected wearables will enable workers, partners, and customers to experience new levels of immediacy, simplicity, and context in their mobile computing experiences," Forrester's Gownder said.
"Wearables aren't just a consumer phenomenon. They have the potential to change the way organisations and workers conduct business."
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