Skip to Main Content

Dec 9, 2019 | 4 minute read

Time for B2B to bet big on wearable communications tech

written by Darin Archer

The first time you see a kid running around a playground with a real-time location tracker clipped to his belt, you realize the world of wearable technology has dramatically changed. (Also, I’m considering whether to invest.)

Wearable tech has evolved to the point where it’s pretty much possible to find anyone, anywhere, any time. So far, it’s been most visible in consumer-facing smartwatches, whose sales leapt 61% in 2018. Thanks to its near-unlimited budget, Amazon is taking its voice experimentation further with new wearable Alexa options, while Google is piloting a smart jean jacket in partnership with Levi’s. Personally, I’m lusting after a switch from my Apple Watch to one of my favorite customers’ options that also features a digital wallet: Garmin’s fēnix.

As is so often the case, B2B adoption of wearable communications has lagged behind. A few clued-in brands are seeing the light, most recently Sony, which in October announced its mSafety B2B device platform for digital health companies. With the global smart wearables market expected to surpass $27 billion by 2022, other companies won’t be far behind.

B2B wearable capabilities are vastly improved to go far beyond a straightforward smartwatch — particularly for manufacturers. Finally, it makes sense for workers in a warehouse, on a truck or in the field to use voice commands and wearable technologies to better do their jobs. Here’s why.

Tech is becoming more affordable

As with so many technologies, the longer hardware like Bluetooth headsets is around, the more reliable and less expensive it becomes. Those who may have hesitated to put delicate earpieces on the factory floor due to cost likely will exhale a bit when they see today’s price tags. At $15 a pop, budgets won’t be broken if a headset is lost or broken a few times a year.

But it’s not just the smartwatches on employees’ wrists and the headsets in their ears that have gotten more affordable. Literally every component of the communication process, from chips that enable devices and analyze data to the cloud computing that stores that data, has dropped in price thanks to vast availability and a competitive marketplace. Companies can now actually afford to experiment with communication tech — they don’t have to worry about landing on a perfect fit the first time. 

Standards for efficiency are increasing

Thanks to vendors like Amazon, near-instantaneous delivery has grown from nice-to-have to buyer expectation. Elastic Path’s Sci-Fi Shopper report found 75% of consumers expect same-day delivery to become the norm within the next 12 months. Human employees in fulfillment facilities can only work so quickly and for so many hours — so it’s up to technology to fill in the gaps. 

A new generation of devices has emerged to take on this task. Hands-free wearable computers can be strapped to a warehouse worker’s arm (kind of like a quarterback’s armband playbook), allowing them to more accurately scan items, track orders and review metrics. These multimodal speech-directed solutions are significantly more accurate than voice-only tools because they allow workers to review and confirm inputs on-screen. One study found voice-only system users were forced to repeat commands 381% more often than multi-modal system users. That’s not just obnoxious — it’s a huge waste of time that no modern manufacturer can afford.

Tech capabilities are growing

It remains to be seen whether drone delivery becomes a widespread reality for B2B commerce. More likely, the biggest game changers will come in the form of seemingly less-flashy tech that increases general productivity and acts as a natural extension of workers’ current processes.

For example, German industry 4.0 startup ProGlove recently raised an additional $40 million in capital toward developing its wearable tech. Its wireless gloves connect to tablets, smartphones and terminals through Bluetooth, and include features like built-in barcode scanners and gesture-sensing features. Sure, we were all impressed when huge robots began working side by side with humans in car factories — but now those robots have been right-sized to the literal palm of our hands.

Is your B2B company considering an investment in wearable tech? I’d love to see what you’re doing — and how it’s helping you meet your goals.