As a lover of gadgets, I look forward to the day I can wear a short sleeve shirt and my Apple Watch and not feel like a social pariah, but today is not that day. Part of the stigma is created by the fact that while wearables seem like an important frontier for technological innovation, on the consumer side, the functionality just isn’t there.
Sure, my watch allows me to start and stop a run without fiddling with my phone, but… that’s about it. Every other feature looks and works better on my phone. Granted, I have to go through the arduous process of putting my hand all the way into my pocket, powerlifting the six-ounce device to eye level, and stretching my poor thumb to swipe the screen, but I can do it. I can carry that burden.
You can’t really talk about wearables without talking about Google Glass, which always seemed like the perfect crystallization of the uselessness of consumer wearables. I lived a few blocks from Google’s Cambridge office during the heyday of the “Glasshole” in 2014, and would periodically see the device out in the wild, perched awkwardly on the edge of the wearer’s nose like the copper glasses of some sort of Dickensian debtor. Occasionally I’d hear one of them bark into it,
“OK Google, text David.”
“See you in fifteen minutes el oh el.”
And they’d go on their merry way, with everyone around them awkwardly aware of their plans.
Of course, Google Glass was never meant to be cool, or even commercially successful. Google glass was a beta test that people paid for the privilege of participating in. The product’s brief tenure and abrupt removal from the play store allowed it to fade from our collective consciousness just enough for its abrupt return to be surprising. In Summer 2017, Google announced, with little fanfare, that Glass 2.0 was on its way. And with that, Google not only had a field-tested product, but also the name recognition to position itself as the standard in the world of smart goggles. Google Glass 2.0 is available now, but not for consumers to buy.
Glass 2.0 and its contemporaries are being rolled out in areas where wearables are most eminently useful: Industries where people need information while their hands are otherwise occupied — manufacturing, engineering, mining, and of course, field service.
We’re still in the early days of these technologies, though. Only 12% of service professionals have implemented wearable tech, and an additional 19% hope to have it implemented within the next 12 months. The biggest problem? The technology’s not quite there yet.
While wearables today are being used successfully to provide real-time parts lists and to take notes via voice command while working, it’s easy to see the piece that will blow the doors open: robust Augmented Reality.
AR has existed in various simplistic forms for quite a while (Who among us didn’t have a brief, passionate love affair with Pokémon Go?) but the implementations of sophisticated Augmented Reality are taking the tech beyond superimposing Squirtles onto street corners to understanding space and identifying items by shape. Just like Google Glass before it, these more sophisticated AR capabilities are being beta tested by consumers as we speak (Albeit in even more uncool forms than wearables).
Within the next two years, however, the toolbox of wearable capabilities is set to explode as these smart goggles will be able to scan the viewable area and overlay visual instructions step-by-step. Combine that with machine learning, predictive capabilities, and your HVAC technician? They’re basically Robocop.
It’s easy to see wearables, then, as the next technology frontier in improving service, and there’s certain to be an explosion of hardware adoption to accompany that sentiment. More mature firms, taken as separate from the market as a whole, are already nearing 50% adoption. When technicians are on-site with this tech, it won’t really matter if they look cool, because they offer something much more important: The power to finish a repair more quickly and accurately, saving end users money, time, and headaches.
This article originally appeared in Aberdeen Group.