April 24 is as good a date as any to peg as the day wearable computing goes mainstream.
The Apple Watch ships that day. Within a few days of its release—possibly within a few hours (thanks to preorders), Apple could ship more smartwatches than all the smartwatches that had previously shipped from all other companies.
Everybody is focused on whether the Apple Watch is the best or right watch compared with others, or whether the public will or will not re-acquire the habit of wearing a watch.
These are irrelevant considerations for IT managers who will have to cope with the parade of wearable devices that will pass through the corporate office doors.
The fact is that Apple’s special combination of design, manufacturing prowess, fan-base, marketing and retail mojo, among other factors, is mainstreaming smartwatches next month and, with it by extension, the wearable computing category.
The rising tide of Apple Watch interest and sales will lift all wearables boats. The wearable revolution is finally upon us, and it’s time to accept the idea that by the end of the year, wearable devices (mostly smartwatches, for now) will be very common in companies across the country and around the world.
It’s time now for us to understand what a wearable computing device really is and why it’s so different from all previous devices.
What Is BYOD All About, Exactly?
An employee is more than just a person. He or she comes with non-human attributes, as well.
When a company hires a person, we acknowledge a boundary (without thinking about it much) between what lies within the employee’s purview and what’s lies within the company’s.
In a conventional office, the company provides a desk, chair, computer, network, printer, office supplies—that sort of thing. These fall under the company’s responsibility. When an employee leaves the company later on, all these items stay with the company.
The company is not normally in charge of providing eyeglasses, clothing, jewelry and other personal items. Those are the employees’ possessions and they come with the hire. And it’s up to the employee to provide those things as they choose. When an employee leaves, all these personal items depart with the employee.
This line between the employee and the company is what caused the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) problems in the first place. The initial assumption was that “office equipment” and computers were the natural purview of the company. Yet there was disagreement. Some employees felt that a laptop or a smartphone was part of the self—like eyeglasses, and not something that should be issued—and, therefore, owned and controlled—by the company.
The disagreement and confusion over who chooses, owns and maintains those devices is what the BYOD issue is all about.
‘Bring Your Own Smartwatch’ Won’t Cause an IT Management Crisis
The other part of the problem is that the smartphone is a personal device and not a corporate one. In that case, how does IT manage its connection to the network, security policies and app compatibility and currency for these personal mobile devices?
It’s an especially important issue for IT in part because these devices—PCs/laptops and smartphones—are universal. Every white collar employee has them.
That’s what BYOD is all about: Are these fundamental and universal devices part of the employee or part of the company?
Why Wearables Are Different
None of these issues exist within the wearables category. There will never be a controversy or disagreement over the fact that wearables are personal, like eyeglasses or shoes, at least in the white-collar corporate world. The employees will choose, buy and maintain them.
This won’t be true for blue collar workers, who will increasingly be issued company-sanctioned vertically integrated smart glasses, smartwatches and other wearables when they are needed for specific work applications.
Wearable devices used by office employees of all kinds will and should be seen as personal enhancement—enhancement of the person or the mind—not “tools” or “equipment” that are “used.”
Furthermore, many employees won’t have them because they won’t feel they need or want them. They will not (in the foreseeable future, anyway) achieve the ubiquity of PCs or smartphones.
But wait, you may say: What about the central issue of connecting these devices to the company network?
And here again, for the most part, wearables are a non-issue. The Apple Watch along with Android Wear watches and, in fact, most wearables either cannot or do not need to connect to the company network. Smartwatches normally connect to the phone and the phone connects to the network. So any policies and safeguards that enable smartphones to connect to corporate networks cover wearables, too.
This brings us to the sole remaining objection or fear around wearables—sensors. And by sensors, I mean mainly cameras and microphones. Some will fear that smartwatches and smart glasses and smart whatever will be able to record sensitive information, either during meetings or in restricted areas.
But again, this is a non-issue, for the most part. Wearable devices won’t have any special capabilities that the smartphones everyone already carries don’t already have. And using those capabilities aren’t any stealthier than smartphones are.
So yes, of course, people will wear their wearable computing devices to work. But they will change nothing about policy or procedure because they are personal devices that connect through phones and don’t do anything different from phones.
So relax. There is no “bring your own wearables” issue.