Ahmed Banafa is a Kaplan University faculty member for the School of Information Technology with experience in IT operations and management and a research background related techniques and analysis. He is a certified Microsoft Office Specialist, and he has served as a reviewer and technical contributor for the publication of several business and technical books. He contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
You could say that our society's attraction to wearable technology took hold when the Dick Tracy comic strip introduced the 2-way wrist radio and TV to its readers more than 50 years ago. Walkmans, iPods, Bluetooth earphones and more have joined the realm of consumer wearable tech since then. And with our smartphone and tablet dependencies, the evolution into wearable computing was an inevitability. But with the advent of the Samsung Smartwatch and Google Glass last year, such tech has now become an obsession. To fuel that obsession — and grow the market for more wearable computing devices — programming, application and thoughtful design needs to keep pace along with imagination.
Are apps up to the task?
One of the key challenges facing current wearable computing devices is the lack of apps. Without a variety of robust apps serving the different needs of consumers, the future of wearable devices will be cloudy at best. If we scan the market to see what is available right now, the few apps around are limited to fitness-specific features like heart-rate monitoring, calorie intake, diet tracking, etc. Although helpful, these aren't considered "killer apps" that capture the imagination of consumers, nor make them excited enough to invest in and use a wearable computing device. [10 Fitness Apps: Which Is Best for Your Personality?]
According to the tech research firm Gartner, "wearable devices will drive half of all app interactions by 2017." If this prediction proves to be true, we will see a wave of new apps hit the market. Consumers want to have apps available in all major operating systems like iOS and Android. As Matt Hamblen mentioned in ComputerWorld earlier this year, that need will drive many developers to be creative and fast in introducing new apps to the market.
Building the future of wearable systems
There are a host of concerns related to wearable computing devices that need to be addressed for such devices to become mainstream, such as:
- Technological dependence created by augmented reality and automatic processing;
- Power management;
- Heat dissipation from batteries and how it will impact user health;
- Advances in software architecture to make up for the challenges of navigating on such small-screen interfaces;
- Management of wireless and personal area networks (PAN);
- Sufficient security from hackers with the potential to control the data stores on the device, if not the device itself while in use.
But with security and other risks addressed, the hands-free and location-independent operations of wearable computing devices could lead to a number of applications. For example, the devices could provide new capabilities for those needing high-tech mobility and connectivity in the field, such as emergency personnel, search-and-rescue teams, warehouse workers or anyone on the move. The systems also make it possible to track individuals, such as nurses performing rounds or emergency workers in the field.
Wearable computing devices could also display schematics to a technician repairing a specialized piece of machinery or allow a worker to manage equipment remotely, such as assembly-line machinery, providing an extra layer of safety for the workers. Even sales personnel could take advantage of such technology, easily accessible information to deliver better and faster customer service.
Every new technology has an introduction and discovery phases in its life cycle, and wearable computing devices are no exception. Recently, many places banned Google Glass due to concerns about privacy by recording people without their permission, but I believe that issue will be resolved, and acceptance of such "nerdy looking glasses" will be the norm.
There will be times when consumers will question the purpose and use of such devices, and some people will reject them altogether. But the potential of wearable devices is too much to ignore, and the benefits are too many to walk away from. If past experience with the everyday significance of smartphones and tablets is any indication, then the future of wearable computing devices is just as bright, and limited only by our own imaginations.
The author's most recent Op-Ed was "As AI Advances into 'Deep Learning,' are Robot Butlers on the Horizon?" Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook, Twitter and Google +. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Kaplan University. "This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.