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Mobile Next.0: Five business scenarios for the wearable, augmented-reality era

Nicholas D. Evans | Sept. 10, 2013
Wearable computing is coming, and combined with augmented-reality apps, it could bring some benefits for the enterprise.

As mobile computing evolves, two of the most interesting developments now emerging are wearable devices and augmented-reality applications. And if mobile computing has taught us anything, it's that the old consumer/enterprise technology divide is disappearing. If users buy a device that they can use for business, they will use it for business. With that in mind, I want to review five business scenarios that are compelling for the combination of wearables and AR.

First, though, it seems like a good idea to consider the likelihood of wearables and AR becoming broadly adopted at all. We can't know this, of course, but there's good reason to believe that the trajectory of mobile computing over the past decade will carry over to wearables and AR.

That's because wearables and AR will extend the great computing transformation that has defined the last several decades, in which computing has continually moved closer and closer to the specific point where work gets done. PCs moved computing from the data center to the front office and then to users' desktops. The laptop, smartphone and tablet brought computing to our fingertips, wherever they might be.

Wearables take this one step further by making computing devices even more lightweight, portable, unobtrusive and instantaneous. They open new modes of operation, from continual sensing and measurement to natural language. I don't think it's outrageous to foresee countless enterprise end users embracing these sorts of devices in their search for more efficient business processes, and perhaps even the opportunity to completely reinvent and redesign both business processes and business models.

The market trends are clear. According to Canalys, smartphone shipments overtook those for PCs back in 2011 (488 million smartphones vs. 415 million PCs). Tablets have widened the gap. Today's mobile elite typically bring three or more mobile devices to work, and tomorrow's mobile elite may well add one or two wearables to the mix as well. Transparency Market Research predicts that the global wearable technology market will grow from $750 million in 2012 to $5.8 billion by 2018, a CAGR of 40.8%. (Wearables include devices such as smartwatches, smart glasses and heads-up displays, but also include wearable sensors and monitors. In this article, I am primarily thinking of wearable glasses, but many of the scenarios I will discuss hold equally true for some of the other wearables as well.)

Meanwhile, AR apps have found early traction on smartphones. Already, we can use such apps to find restaurants, subway stations, hotels, ATMs, Wi-Fi hotspots and more, and we can even augment our driving and take measurements of physical objects. But one reason I've thrown AR apps together with wearable devices in this article is that , when combined, the utility of AR apps will soar, since they can be accessed more rapidly while being less distracting and obtrusive. Markets and Markets predicts that the global augmented reality applications market will grow from $692 million in 2013 to $5.2 billion by 2016, a growth curve similar to that of the wearable technology market.


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