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Tech on the go: Wearable gadgets to improve productivity

5 minute read

Oliver Kennett
someone wearing and using smartwatch

Sweat pours from my brow. My breath labours in and out of my lungs. I can feel my heart thundering in my chest… I check my Apple Watch again. I’ve run for almost twenty meters. I slow to a stop seizing my knees and gasping like those mad marathon runners do on TV.

I finally stand, tapping one ear like the universal sign for “He’s a bit tapped in the head” and compound the air of insanity by shouting: “Siri! Stop music”.

Wearable technology is now commonplace with new products such as smartwatches supplementing workouts and communication tools, smart glasses providing contextual information, as well as existing technologies such as headphones evolving to become devices that can offer more than just listening to “Eye of the tiger”.

Flavours of wearables

Wearables began with the humble wristwatch. In 1904, an aviator by the name of Alberto Santos-Dumont began wearing his watch on his wrist so that his hands were free to pilot his aircraft. Before this time, he would have had to dig through pockets to find his fob watch whilst flying man’s first attempts at aeroplanes, which is certainly less than ideal.

Now we have wearable technology. Technology that can be worn by a person and be used passively such as recording steps, heart rate, providing alerts and information. There are several types of wearable technology including implants, jewellery, clothing, head-mounted displays and smartwatches.

This article will take a brief look at what is available and how such technologies may be put to use in improving productivity in your workplace.

Implants

Implants are exactly what you might expect, technology that is secreted under the skin. These can often have valuable medical applications such as pacemakers or contraception but there is a branch of wearable technology companies looking to augment humanity with such devices.

In terms of your business, unless your company specialises in spying, cyborg dating or your office is 100 miles below the surface of the earth, not much of this technology is applicable, though in years to come such wearables as subdermal ID tags could emerge allowing only your own employees free access to your workspace.

Jewellery

As with implants, jewellery could act as a key-pass for employees but also a means of receiving alerts and notifications. Naturally, the smaller size of jewellery such as a ring would preclude any screen. Another application could be headphones and fitness trackers built into earrings, allowing for hands-free business calls. However, this is a small sector where form hasn’t yet quite met function with such devices looking more Terminator than Tiffany.

Clothing

Smart clothing is another emerging market with examples such as the Trucker Jacket by Levi that allows control of mapping applications through pressure sensors on the sleeves to haptic shoes that provide directions to people by tapping on the soles of their feet.

Other examples mainly include sports clothing such as yoga pants that can correct your downward facing dog or Back To The Future Part II style power lace shoes that can change tension during sports.

Productivity wise, there are a vast number of applications including identity chips in clothing, system control via touch sensitive patches, protecting factory workers by alerting them to lifting incorrectly or providing subtle prompts for navigation either during deliveries or in vast warehouses.

Head mounted displays

As yet, wearable glasses haven’t quite taken off with Google Glass, the first commercial attempt at the technology, not catching on due to its rather steampunk appearance and high price tag.

Now that the cost of manufacturing has come down and with stylish tech designers such as Bose getting involved and putting their spin on smart specs, and Apple rumoured to be exploring Augmented Reality hardware, it is likely that there will soon be stylish and affordable options on the market.

Even though they’ve not become popular for personal use, some smart glasses are used in industries with Software Development Kits available to customise their use.

For example, the glasses can display up to the minute stock reports, notifications of system statuses, schematics and any information an employee might need whilst keeping their hands free.

Smart glasses are also loaded with cameras allowing real-time feedback to colleagues, the ability to record events or meetings as well as scanning documents.

Smartwatches

It’s rare that any of us are far from our smartphones, but for those times that we are, devices such as smartwatches keep us connected. Smartwatches such as the Apple Watch or the Samsung Gear S even allow us to leave our smartphones at home as they have cell phone capability. Smartwatches are predominantly used as health trackers and have been known to even save lives, but how can they be used to improve productivity in and out of work?

For the most part, unless recharging, people are constantly wearing their smartwatches. This means that receiving notifications about emails or messages is as simple as feeling a tap on the wrist. Naturally, you might not want every single email to pop up on your smartwatch, but it is possible to specify notifications for just the most important emails.

Replying, however, is another thing. You might be hard-pressed to respond to a long email with anything more than a stock response or hit and miss dictation, “Thank you for your message…”, but the productivity tools of smartwatches extend beyond simple notifications.

What is more convenient than having a voice recorder strapped to your wrist? Most smartwatches have the ability to record voice memos or meetings, some devices even going so far as to continually record so you always have the previous 60 seconds of genius chatter at your fingertips without having to even press a button.

Though this may be convenient, the quality of such recordings tend to be poor, hardly surprising when all you are using is a tiny microphone attached to a gesticulating arm that is tucked away under a suit cuff, but it can work at a pinch.

Of course, smartwatches can be used for their main purpose of health tracking. This doesn’t have to extend to making the office run around the block ten times each morning but built-in apps that help with mindfulness or simply getting people to stand and move around a little can help refresh the office and thereby increase concentration and productivity.

What about privacy?

Most transport and courier businesses use GPS tracking on either vehicles or, with their consent, employee’s smartphones. This provides a means of supplying the customer with up to date forecasts with arrival times, helps with scheduling and, in some cases, spots when a driver has decided to take a nap at the side of the road. Where it becomes interesting with wearables is that they can be used to track employees on a more personal level… Which doesn’t sound creepy in the slightest…

Applications can include seeing when someone is entering or leaving the business premises, locating employees if they are needed or, like tracking vehicles, being able to find where workers are in a warehouse and optimising their routes.

Until wearable technology becomes more popular in the workplace, it is impossible to say what issues may arise. As with the examples of using GPS to track employees, privacy concerns have to be taken into account. It begs the question, how much privacy should an employee have when at work? At what point does tracking of an individual’s location and even biometrics cross the line? Conversely, how much should employers be allowed to know about their staff so that the business remains productive rather than them getting a quick nap in the storeroom?

As with any emerging technology, it is a case of balancing out the pros and cons. On one hand, such devices can improve productivity and it is a continually evolving field. On the other, in an already hectic world of noise, notifications and nonsense that we are perpetually distracted by, could there be long term effects on productivity? How much can we deal with when we can be contacted or found at any time, all the time? Is dressing in circuit boards too intrusive or can such technology fulfil its promises and make us happier and more productive?

Oliver Kennett is an author and freelance copywriter living in Bristol. A graduate in both law and engineering, he enjoys exploring science, technology and social impact through his writing. As well as clients in the technology, tourism, legal and lifestyle sectors, he has written extensively for charity. In his spare time he writes short stories and novels for children and adults in the horror, sci-fi, fantasy and humour genres.

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