Fitbits and smart watches and Google Glass are all well and good, but the most meaningful early use of wearable technology will happen in industrial and enterprise settings, according to experts on a Wednesday panel discussion at the Wearable Tech Expo in New York.
Joe Fitzgerald, a senior manager at Deloitte, said that the instant breakthrough doesn't seem like it's just around the corner for wearables in the consumer market.
"The consumer space is interesting," he said. "But there are some real challenges there in terms of widespread adoption."
The other panelists, including APX Labs vice president Ed English, generally concurred. He said that part of the reason for this is the numerous clear-cut use cases for wearables, particularly smart glasses.
"Enterprises will adopt wearable technology first and strongest," English said. "We already know what the killer application is the ability to work hands-free."
According to English, this will make wearables particularly disruptive as a personal computing device in the enterprise.
"The reason why this is so important is that you can do things that aren't possible to do any other way," he said.
Moreover, there's a business incentive for the wearables industry to shoot for enterprise deployments, according to Drew Austin, a co-founder of enterprise eyeware software development firm Augmate.
"In the short-term, there are opportunities to drive revenue by showing quantifiable results in the workplace," he said, keeping wearables companies afloat while the slower-burning consumer market continues to heat up.
The panelists said that some of the initial deployments could be industrial applications specific, well-defined use cases with clear performance metrics and goals. But the eventual use of wearables among knowledge workers will be more of a generalized phenomenon, according to Plantronics strategic solutions director Beau Wilder.
"The wearable that's going to win in the enterprise is actually going to be multi-functional," Wilder said. "The reason the smartphone is so valuable to information workers is because it's multi-function."
All this is not to say that wearables will explode into the enterprise overnight, the panelists agreed. There are numerous technical hurdles to be overcome, like battery life, screen brightness and general connectivity issues.
Aaron Salow, the CEO of business-focused eyeware maker XOEye, noted that smart glasses represent a different user experience than other technologies.
"There's an intimacy to wearing something on your face that isn't there with watches," he said.
Wilder stated that this intimacy could prove to be a two-edged sword for enterprise users.
"You want the end user ... to feel like they're better with the wearable technology, not that they're being spied on by big brother," he said.
Still, with improved regulation and control systems, this shouldn't be a long-term barrier to adoption, and the panelists all agreed that wearable usage should begin to take off among businesses within the near future.
"It's not that there's some magic barrier that needs to be overcome, it's just a function of time," said Ed English. "We're at the first stage of something that's pretty obviously going to be a hockey stick."