In his article Cramming More Components Onto Integrated Circuits, which was published in the Proceeding of the IEEE in 1965, Gordon E. Moore made the famous prediction that became known as "Moore's Law". His original observation was that transistor density (and therefore processing power) was likely to double every year until 1975.
Moore, and others, have since made alterations to the maxim, saying the doubling would occur somewhere between every 18 months and every two years. Regardless of how long it has taken for each twofold increase, the growth in processing power is exponential. What's more, this rate of growth has gone on far longer than Moore originally predicted. We still see it today, almost 50 years later.
Processing power is not the only thing that has changed in the last few decades. We have also seen enormous progress in storage media, battery technology, and materials that allow equipment to be more malleable. All these wonderful advances in different technologies have conspired to make possible wearable computers - computers embedded in glasses, in clothes, or in watches.
Wearables have been a big source of discussion in the media over the last year; and as is the case with any new technology, once the hype dies down, a few specific use cases will drive a quiet, but real, demand in the beginning. The cautious CIO is careful to invest only when either mature products are on the market, or when products solve a problem that's so nasty it's worth taking a few risks and working around all the kinks that are characteristic to any new product category.
Since the industry around wearables is still very young, all offerings are new and buggy. However, there are a few problems nasty enough for some IT directors, albeit very few, to start looking to make small investments in this new technology.
What are the pain points that can be addressed with wearables right now?
Technicians working in the field could use smart glasses with a voice interface to read manuals or access knowledge management systems - and they can do so without using their hands. Similarly, anybody working in a harsh environment can access data without having to remove gloves.
Fire fighters could use wearable computers embedded in protective clothing to monitor their bodies for heat stress. Police men and women might be similarly equipped with sensors that detect heat stress and other vital signs.
General-purpose usage is a long way off, but these special cases are such that the right wearable solution can make a big difference to an entire industry. The first few organisations to enable their field forces to get up-to-date information in a harsh environment, and without having to take their hands away from their work, may leap out ahead of the rest.
The problem is, finding the right wearable solution can be very difficult. Many IT directors still struggle to put together a mobile solution, with all the different device types and form factors to choose from, and with all the different components that have to work together. For the time being, wearable solutions for the enterprise are going to be custom made with all the project management risks associated with something so new and complex.