What the smartwatch says about our mobile ecosystem

We’re wired to do things faster, smarter, better – always looking for the next big thing to make our lives easier, our companies more successful, our countries more competitive. Sometimes this works well, like when the iPhone launched. Sometimes it fails spectacularly, such as the Apple Newton.

As a Silicon Valley veteran, I’ve seen that forward-thinking approach lead to incredible technology innovations – paving the way again and again to solve real market issues. Our inherent drive to be better fuels our economy and no doubt needs to continue. But, it often leads to an intense spotlight being put on a single device or technology, with media, industry analysts and early adopters often quick to assign a label of “the next big thing.”

The next big devices

When this happens, the hope is that the device will single-handedly change how consumers and/or employees go about their daily business. Take new high-tech glasses - they carry high expectations from the health care industry, with surgeons rattling off endless use cases spurred by the ability to view and retrieve data hands-free. Understandably so, as the possibilities could truly be life changing – advancing telemedicine, medical training and surgical procedures.

Personally I’m a little concerned about having a computer that close to my brain all day long, don’t want to fry my good sense with new technology. However, health issues around what extended mobile phone use does to our brains hasn’t stopped us from using them 24/7. The biggest issue that people will have is acclimating to the new form factor of wearing a computer on their head.     

Similarly, there’s much talk of late about use cases surrounding the advent of the smartwatch, which many companies are now offering. Many smartwatches connect to your phone, similar to how early heart rate and health monitors connected to smartphones to download the data users needed to track their progress. The recent launch of new models has Jon Schwartz with USA Today asking if the Star Trek-like wrist gadgets are the next big thing?”  Gartner projects that wearable smart electronics will be a $10 billion industry by 2016, but it’s still too early to tell what role smartwatches will play in our future.

However, there is one very telling piece to the smartwatch movement: the device itself is just one piece of the overall mobile productivity ecosystem.

Wearable technology in a mobile ecosystem

A smartwatch is not a stand-alone device. It generally coexists smartphones and tablets and is dependent upon that connection for true mobile productivity to take effect. As Jeff Kagan with CNN put it: “The smartwatch will be your remote control for your smart phone. And your smart phone will be your remote control for your life.”

The introduction of the smartwatch is representative of an industry-wide shift in how we approach mobile computing – comprised of devices, connectivity, data, context, and of course, the cloud. In our BYOD age, it’s less about what devices individuals are using and more about how they access and interact with the information they need.

Wearable technology, such as a smartwatch, health monitors or video enabled eyewear, is the next logical step in device advancements. We carry our smartphones with us everywhere we go, my children’s generation even more so than my own. Wearable technology takes our societal desire to be constantly connected, and makes the form factor more easily integrated into our everyday lives.

Productivity gains from wearable technology

The magic of mobile productivity happens when we tie together a multitude of devices and enable users to work, communicate and collaborate as needed from anywhere. That means creating one big, seamless ecosystem in the end.  While we’re not there yet, devices like smartwatchs are just the tip of the iceberg – over the next decade we’ll see a flood of wearable technology that will let us work smarter, better and faster, on the activities that we need. 

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