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Big smartwatch push at CES anticipates Apple's entry later in 2015

Matt Hamblen | Jan. 5, 2015
LAS VEGAS -- At International CES this week, more than 500 vendors are showing off wearable computing gear of some flavor or other.

In another marketing-focused example that Gownder described, sunscreen-maker Nivea launched a wearable tracking band in Brazil that could be torn out of a fashion magazine and placed on a child's wrist, then paired with a smartphone app to deliver the parent a notification if the child moved beyond a pre-set sun exposure range.

One of the more provocative marketing possibilities of the Apple Watch is its Digital Touch feature, which allows the wearer to share his or her heartbeat with someone else. When customers share a heartbeat, they can then get personalized messages in response that either correspond to the heartbeat or are designed to alter the mood behind the heartbeat. Whether the technology really works or proves to be a gimmick is anybody's guess.

"Creating marketable moments of this sort will require cultural engineering that only the right brands can pull off," Gownder said.

The downsides to wearables: Privacy, security

Google Glass has been criticized because of concerns that it invades people's privacy. For instance it isn't always clear when the user is taking a photo of someone. With smartwatches, or other monitoring devices, workers may have concerns about being tracked by their employers, even in the interest of safety.

When delivery trucks had GPS devices installed in their vehicles a decade ago, there was some worker backlash, although that seems to have died down.

In the case of Thiess in Australia and with other company trials, "the primary purpose is not to track workers, but to augment the company's ability to get information quickly," Gownder said. "Companies need to be careful about it, but if their intentions are right, there won't be that much of a worker backlash."

When GPS tracking started in truck fleets, the purpose was to make sure drivers were staying on their routes, which is different from how smartwatch monitoring of workers — so far — is being evaluated, he said.

The biggest worry for company managers from the use of smartwatches and other wearables won't be over worker tracking, Llamas said. It will be over the security of the data these workers gather and forward to the cloud or to corporate servers. While pairing a device with a smartphone might seem to offer all the networking security defenses already established through VPNs and other means, there will inevitably be some holes. If devices communicate directly over cellular wireless without the need for a smartphone, there could be more potential vulnerability.

"Hackers would love to get into wearables," Llamas said. "Just think of all the information they could collect about the user and where the user is, or even what the employee sees through a camera on a device. Hack into that kind of data and a hacker could watch a user type in passwords, and then he's about to become a very rich man."

In other words, smartwatches and other wearables are likely to open up many new markets for hardware, software, applications and even security vendors. It's all just starting and CES is about to offer the world a better glimpse.


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