In recent years we've seen the vast growth of smartphones, tablets and even cloud computing.

Now the technology market is making way for the rise of wearable technology - devices worn on, or even inside the body, that connect both the power of 'smart' devices with the capability of cloud computing's storage and data handling.

The release of Google Glass

In the last year or two you may have seen or heard about Google's latest innovation, new wearable technology glasses - 'Google Glass'. The glasses can take videos, capture images and project information right into the eye of the wearer using tiny displays.

Last month saw the first batch of Google Glasses released for sale to the general public In the USA and, despite the initial price tag of around $1500, they are quickly being snapped up. Analysts predict that the annual market for wearable technology will be worth more than $10 billion by 2016 and $50 billion by 2018.

Wearable devices in the workplace

'BYOD' (bring your own devices) into the workplace has become commonplace in 2014, with employers accepting and even encouraging the use of personal devices for business purposes,  but will we soon see a rise in employees wishing to use their personal wearable technology in the workplace? The potential for such devices to capture sensitive and confidential information, images and data could present challenges which most businesses are not yet prepared to deal with.  Some companies have even already banned Google Glass!

However, will your employers expect you to embrace this new technology? San Francisco social media startup, Buffer issues 'Jawbone Up', a wearable wrist tracker to all new employers as standard.  It collects and shares data with the rest of the team on employees' goals, progress and even sleep patterns, as part of their 'wellness' and transparency programme.  They even use the trackers to screen job applications.  It might be some time before employees on this side of the Atlantic are ready to share this amount of personal information!

 

Data protection

These wearable devices have the ability to capture a huge amount of data about the individual wearer, including their GPS location, activity and health.  For example, wearable devices can detect whether you are going to be late for a meeting based on your GPS location, and they can automatically contact the person you are meeting to tell them you are running late and provide an estimated arrival time. 

But how much control does a wearer have over their personal data and what security measures will be in place to protect this?

Wearable devices capture images and footage of individuals in the vicinity of the wearer - presenting a number of fears around privacy and security.  This could present a particularly heightened challenge for the use of such devices commercially.  

Would you wear one?

Amidst all the hype around the rise of wearable technology, there are also the detractors.  Scepticism is often a natural response to an emerging technology.
It would seem that every major tech company from Dell to Microsoft, from Sony to Blackberry is currently developing a wearable gadget - the majority of them being smart watches.   However, not every development is a runaway success.  Even Samsung, which dominates the smartphone market, flopped with its smartwatch, Galaxy Gear, which ended up being given away with its Samsung Galaxy Note 3!  So is it just a case of marketers feeding us with new gadgets to boost their brand? Or will we really find use in these wearables, once the right ones have been developed?

Fashion forward

The only wearables that have seen some popularity to date include fitness wristbands like Sony's Smartband, Nike's Fuelband and the Fitbit - according to Endeavour Partners, one in 10 American's over 18 now own a fitness-tracking device.  However, unlike other wearable technology, fitness wristbands are relatively unobtrusive and provide a very specific purpose related to fitness and health.


Other wearable devices may have a long way to go until they will be accepted by the general public. They'll also need a face lift if they don't want to leave us looking like extras in Star Trek!  Google have already spotted this issue and are currently partnering with Luxottica, the maker of Oakley and Ray-Van sunglasses, to try and make their Glass more stylish. 

 

Crowd Sourcing

Despite privacy fears, wearable technology does have the ability to significantly improve complex healthcare - using wearable health technology to cost-efficiently administer evidence-based treatments and to vastly improve electronic health records and history of individuals.  Moreover, pooling data voluntarily from whole populations can crowd source valuable healthcare information in real time, enabling population trends and better preventative healthcare to be researched and managed.

A distraction from the real world?

In March Google released a post on Google+ dispelling many fears and accusations over its Google Glass product. Google are keen to quench suspicions that its wearable technology is just another step towards us all becoming far too dependent on technology. However, Google insists that its product helps people live life in real time, instead of through a screen using phones or tablets.

Who's already embraced wearable technology?

  • Tesco's distribution in Ireland are using smart armbands to track goods and measure workers' movements.
  • SITA, the air transport industry's IT provider has commented that smart watches, smart glasses and other wearable computing devices will be part of the airport of the future. 
  • The Virginia Tech College of Engineering in the United States are developing pulse oximeters

 

So will 2014 really be the year of the wearable device? The general consensus seems to be that we'll have to wait a little longer for wearables to go mainstream. For wearables to really catch on, the focus needs to shift away from the actual gadget to what the gadget allows you to do.  Although I'm no expert, it seems that you can already do all the things on your smartphone that you can do with Google Glass.  If the big tech companies can develop wearables that provide original and compelling benefits for the wearer, then there will be no stopping them.