And now to business. The simple fact that wearable devices are hands-free gives them a distinct advantage over smartphones and tablets and, when coupled with AR applications, opens up a number of interesting application scenarios across industries as diverse as retail, financial services, healthcare, transportation and government. Here are five:
Understanding and navigating the physical environment. As I've already noted, AR apps that help us find things will increase their utility when they are incorporated into wearable devices. As wearables move from the early adopter to the early mainstream in the next few years, businesses should think about how AR apps could help customers find their stores, navigate their large facilities, determine whether a product is in stock, check wait times, report product issues and more.
Providing detailed guidance for complex manual tasks. Intricate manual tasks such as inspection, maintenance and repair within field service can be augmented on smart glasses with heads-up displays of online instruction manuals, graphical guides or other pertinent information. This sort of assistance can be extended even to surgical procedures, not to mention giving nurses and other healthcare providers relevant patient data in real time. Logistics is another area with great potential, as highlighted in Jonny Evans' recent blog, where he sees promise for wearables in delivery operations. In addition, I see potential within large warehouses, where workers need guidance finding, picking and shipping products from inventory.
Supporting military and intelligence operations. Wearable devices with heads-up displays found early adoption in the military, where they help shorten the time from intent to action. The U.S. military, as part of its Soldier Centric Imaging via Computational Cameras (SCENICC) initiative, is now exploring AR contact lenses with information such as color imaging and video provided directly to the wearer via the lens. It will be interesting to see when these innovations find their way into the business and consumer worlds.
Enhancing the shopping experience. In retail, AR technology has already made it possible for phones to act like barcode scanners and offer up extra product information, reviews and price comparisons. With wearable devices, AR apps can offer the same kinds of functionality but in a far more convenient manner, so consumers can continue to pick up and handle items while doing their online research hands-free. Retail-focused AR companies have already produced virtual dressing rooms for trying on clothing at home, and it's likely that wearable glasses will simplify that and bring it to the showroom as well.
Facilitating instant information and collaboration. The main consumer scenario is that users will benefit from instant content and collaboration. Wearable devices will make it easier to access news and weather, get updates on flight status, send and reply to messages, dictate email, get on-screen translation, take photos and video clips, and videoconference so they can see what their collaborators are looking at. The main objection has been that wearable glasses will promote stealth photographing and videotaping, though there is also concern among government agencies, such as the U.K. Department of Transportation, that wearable glasses will be a distraction when driving. As for the enterprise, the ease of access that wearable devices will provide could be used to enhance existing mobile- and social-enabled applications to improve employees' productivity, information-sharing and collaboration.
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