How will wearables change things? Let me count the ways. It’s not Shakespeare-level sonnetry or anything, but as these ultra-portable smart devices hit shelves (virtual or otherwise) en masse, you can expect their influence to continue expanding far beyond the tech landscape. And unlike smartphones, which usually require the user’s active attention to be useful, these gadgets work just fine without your instructions.
Take data collection and analysis, for instance, a topic we’ve touched on multiple times in relation to topics like the Internet of Things and the quantified self. In the corporate world, managers, marketers and a whole lot of other professional titles that don’t start with “M,” will soon find themselves in a position where getting data isn’t the problem; figuring out what to do with all of it is. Outside of the office, burgeoning fields like mHealth and established sectors like retail will soon find themselves with the same “problem.”
With wearables and all the data they can collect, it’s very possible that brick-and-mortar stores will be able to stand their ground against online mega retailers like Amazon. Take a look at Walmart’s excellent mobile app, a piece of software we previously lauded in a recent article.
In its current state, the app has an awesome Scan & Go feature, which lets in-store shoppers scan purchases as they shop and pay at self-checkout terminals. In a wearable-equipped world, a feature like this could go several steps further, and not just for checkout purposes. Users could load up an official company app that monitors what items they look at, then make personalized suggestions based on their window-shopping behaviors.
Let’s say a customer, flush with cash from a recent tax check, decides she wants to purchase a new TV. She stops at the local Walmart and opens up the app on her snazzy new set of Google Glasses. After some serious browsing, she then decides there’s nothing in the store’s inventory that fills the void in her entertainment system. The above-mentioned app could monitor which televisions she spent the most time looking at, cross-reference various stats related to the sets (manufacturer, screen size, resolution, etc.) and suggest she visit another nearby location with a “perfect match” in stock. It could even suggest an item from the online store, where warehouses can effectively hold as many televisions as demanded.
You may think this is years away, but you’d be wrong. A startup we’ve previously covered called Sension has already made some serious headway in facial analytics. The Sension algorithm detects 76 key points on a viewer’s face and tracks them to determine what kind of emotional impact your product left. If a user looked interested, but ultimately decided not to purchase your product, you could shoot them promotions down the road to sway them in your favor.
Retailers could use similar apps to track consumer foot traffic or uncover shopping patterns, allowing them to further optimize store layouts based on shopper behavior. Beacons already have the potential to show store owners where their customers linger most often by speaking to the shoppers’ smartphones. Since most modern wearables also operate on Bluetooth low energy signals, it will allow retailers to monitor their shoppers even if they’re eyes aren’t glued to their smartphone.
Let’s go back to our near-future, alternate-reality Walmart for a moment here. A strategically placed beacon could ask the customer buying a TV for permission to access her Glass camera during the course of her visit, giving the company an ultimate secret-shopper program with no follow-up questionnaires needed. Again, the data they collect could be tremendous. Even a short glance through the average shopper’s eyes could tell them volumes about a given store’s cleanliness, adherence to standards, CS rep friendliness and a heck of a lot more.
Whether they’re looking at numbers, maps or straight-up video feeds, anyone with a physical storefront will have an edge in the age of wearables. Assuming, of course, they have the resources and creative minds needed to snag the data and analyze it properly.
Social exercise, a huge aspect of the quantified-self movement, is a perfect proof of concept for any modern information skeptics. With gadgets like Fitbit’s line of products, some very smart people have found a way to turn basic exercise data into a whole new way to motivate users. To quote a sublime Gizmodo headline, “Peer pressure sucks.”
Think about it. If you’re a jogger, you may not care to tell all your Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter buddies about the results of your latest jogging outing, but you wouldn’t have trouble telling a group of fitness-minded friends the same info. Fitbit accomplishes this by putting your data in a profile where only authorized friends can compare stats and post milestones for the world to see.
These same basic ideas could have a big impact on employers looking to save dough on employee healthcare costs without downgrading the actual services they receive. The emergence of B2B wellness-tracking services like Walkingspree certainly illustrate the need. When employees are healthier, they’re happier, and they also tend to cost their employers a heck of a lot less in related healthcare costs like insurance, missed overhead from sick days and so on.
Another intriguing data collector is the XBox One Kinect, which uses an infrared camera so accurate it can see your blood moving under your skin. Although there’s been a lot of brouhaha over the device’s spying potential, the technology could have some huge health benefits. The Kinect could be used to give doctors regular updates on a patient’s blood pressure or facilitate a checkup via teleconference.
As with marketing data, this is the first time medical professionals and employers will have seemingly unfettered access to all sorts of information. This could lead to all sorts of hardware and procedural innovations that make our lives run more efficiently and ailment free.
Wearables data troves mark both a digital and opt-in revolution. No matter what benefits a company claims to offer once they gain a consumer’s information, they still need their permission. With all of the skepticism surrounding the NSA and potential information leaks like Heartbleed, businesses are going to have to work extra hard to convince customers handing over their data is worth it.
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