Wednesday 10 September 2014 8:22 pm

Wearable tech: Is it set to take over the City?

Imagine the end of desks, and watches that log your billing time

APPLE’S move into wearable tech this week may have disappointed investors (its shares ended the day 0.4 per cent down after the grand unveiling of its unabashedly rectangular Apple Watch), but the hype surrounding the wider wearables market has hardly dampened. NPD Group says that 3.3m fitness bands (like the Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike FuelBand) were bought in the 12 months to March 2014 – a 500 per cent increase on the year before – and Credit Suisse forecasts that the wearables market as a whole will be worth around $30bn (£18.6bn) by 2018.

So should we expect to see technologies like Google Glass and smartwatches sweeping through offices across the City? And what would a wearable workplace even look like?

“If you’re thinking 10 or 15 years down the track, things should look totally different,” says Malcolm Gooderham, head of FTI Consulting’s Thought Leadership practice. The key is to think about how firms will begin integrating wearables into existing systems, making processes more efficient, he says. Software firm SAP, for example, recently launched two augmented reality apps for headsets like Google Glass: the SAP AR Warehouse Picker and SAP AR Service Technician. Users can access instructions, reports, directions and figures through their glasses, without needing to be in front of a computer or smartphone at the time. Fidelity Investments has even launched a market monitoring app for Google Glass, allowing traders to keep an eye on price movements while away from their trading desks.

And for City firms that currently use timesheets to keep track of billable hours (the Big Four auditors, law firms, consultancies), Gooderham thinks smartwatches could cut down on costs. Instead of manually keeping track of time spent on clients’ sites, staff could be equipped with smartwatches that track their movements, uploading data to the company’s systems.

Scott Amyx, founder of wearables strategy agency Amyx+McKinsey, thinks virtual reality devices like Oculus Rift could be even more transformative. Writing for the Motley Fool website, he points out that these “immersive” headsets run productivity apps essentially out of thin air. You can create, view and edit documents with at least as much functionality as a desktop or laptop computer, he argues. “This eliminates the need for a laptop and desk, even an office. Your environment can become virtual. Work can take place anywhere.”

It’s easy to get carried away by these visions of the future, however, and Amyx’s dream isn’t shared by everyone. Many of the City’s biggest firms state that they currently have no special policies in place to govern wearable technology in the workplace, and that they aren’t expecting a huge surge soon. Some are even still working through old Blackberry contracts.

An area that does seem to be gaining traction is the use of trackers and heart monitors to keep an eye on employee health and activity. Peter Cruddas, CMC Markets’s chief executive, says the firm doesn’t use them at the moment, but that they may have some value as an “early warning system”. They’d also be handy to “make sure staff aren’t in the pub when they should be working,” he jokes.

Track your heartbeat
Instant Heart Rate

It’s not exactly a wearable app, since it works through a smartphone, but Instant Heart Rate has many of the features of a fitness band. Simply place the tip of your index finger on the iPhone’s camera, and in a couple of seconds your pulse will be shown on screen. You can then produce graphs of your heart rate to keep a track of how it changes over time, and export the data to other apps and social media. This feature is only available to Premium users, and comes with a £2.99 fee.