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2012

WearableTech_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


Email, scheduler, Rolodex, calculator, videoconference tool, alarm clock—for busy entrepreneurs, smartphones have come to be indispensable, like an extension of their bodies.

 

Developers have caught on to that idea, and are going further: integrating ever more technologies into items people would use and rely on every day. That’s the idea behind “wearable tech.” If you’re already a fan of sensors that collect vital signs at the gym or videogaming gear, like Wii or Kinect, that captures your motions, you’re seeing the beginning of what’s to come.

 

From conductive fabrics and “smart textiles” to the crowdfunding sensation Pebble watch, there’s an army of devices on their way to the mainstream that could change the way we work. An August 2012 report from market analysts IMS Research estimates the wearable tech market will top $6 billion by 2016, with a projected 170 million devices shipping that year.

 

Skeptical about adorning yourself with all these gadgets? Even if you are, a close look at the nascent Google Glass project, which embeds the tech giant’s search and other key functions into eyeglasses, deserves attention (more on this below).

 

What’s out there now? Here’s a look at a few existing wearable technology options that can help entrepreneurs through their busy day and more that are on the way. 



Right Here, Right Now

MoH band: Now where did that infernal flash drive go? Two Babson College grads came up with this clever and inexpensive solution to keeping your data close at hand. This USB drive is built into a wristband that is easy to flick open during a presentation and comes in dozens of colors and patterns (including camouflage, for seriously stealth business maneuvers). MoHs come in 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB and top out at $23.95. One to remember for promotional ideas: MoHs are easily customized with logos and can be ordered in batches of 50.

 

ThumbDogs gloves: The touchscreens of most smartphones and tablet computers are great, provided it’s warm enough to actually touch them with bare flesh. With temperatures dropping, it can be a juggling act to balance gloves and handsets. And that’s the idea behind ThumbDogs ($14.95): gloves with special fingertip coatings that simulate skin and can activate touchscreens, including iPads and phones as well as ATMs and ticket kiosks, all while keeping your hands warm.

 

Blacksocks Smarter Socks: You’re busy—you don’t have time to chase down that stray that’s gone missing again. Enter the Smarter Socks, which contain an RFID chip in the top fold and interact with near-field technology and Bluetooth to alert your phone and identify where the other half has gotten to. They’re $189 for 10 pairs.

 

Alphyn pullover: If you are logging many hours on a tablet, consider this LEDGE fleece jacket that creates a supported shelf for your device, and then zips it right up to secure it to the body in a water-resistant pouch. Or for a smartphone, look at the SOMA model, with a sleeve pocket that allows safe access to the device, along with a channel along the arm for headphone wires. Both are $199.

 

WearableTech_PQ.jpgComing Soon

The Pebble: The best-known wearable tech device may be this Dick Tracyesque “smartwatch,” which broke records in spring 2012 on Kickstarter, tripling the amount ever raised on the crowdfunding website, at $10 million-plus from some 68,000 backers. But what does it do? The device looks like just a sleek wristwatch, but it displays alerts from your nearby Apple or Android phone, including Caller ID, SMSs, email notifications, calendar alerts—and, of course, it gives the time. There are also Pebble apps that give exercise data, like how many steps the wearer takes each day, and, for golfers, a nifty function that can measure the distance to the cup. It’s reportedly coming in early 2013 and costs $150.

 

Although critics have been dismissive of the hype regarding the device, David Drake says it’s lived up to its promise for him. The partner at LDJ Capital, a New York investment and advisory firm, got a prototype of Pebble when its backers were presenting at a conference and says he’s glad to have it, and not just because it’s an instant conversation-starter. (Disclosure: LDJ and Drake have no investment in Pebble.)

 

“The pedometer becomes a sport—trying to add as many steps possible per day,” Drake says. And it’s useful for problem-solving “while having wet hands or being occupied with your hands when the phone rings and when you get a message. On top of it being a sleek watch.” Drake says he’d stopped wearing his wristwatch and just resorted to looking at his smartphone to mark the time, but was itching to have something back on his hand. “I had to have it as it made life easier and made me have a fascinating topic to address when people saw it.”

 

Everpurse: It’s a stylish way to keep a smartphone at full battery power throughout the day. Another Kickstarter hit, these fabric ($99) and leather ($119) pouches look like an everyday accessory bag. But inside, it uses inductive charging to transfer energy wirelessly through a clever in-pocket docking system. The clutch’s battery is energized by a companion mat, and its makers say it can bring dead iPhones and Androids back to 100 percent. Don’t worry, gents: They’re making a black one that looks fine in a briefcase. Due out: Spring 2013.    

 

Google Glass: The search giant set the tech world on fire with news of its forthcoming headgear that can display information about everything the wearer sees and more. It’s not the first of its kind, though, there’s Vuzic’s Wrap headwear, which enables an “augmented reality” experience.

 

But the Google Glass is more significant for business owners in what it could potentially mean for marketing. Set to arrive in 2013 at a not-so-cheap $1,500, the slim headset projects information about objects and locations the wearer encounters on a virtual screen on the side of the line of vision. A wearer can say “Get Glass” and summon a search query by voice. Or they might come across a spot with an embedded geocode—an assigned geographic number specific to an exact latitude and longitude—that triggers a pop-up of information, about a nearby museum, historical marker, or, say, a business offering a deal to a new customer in the neighborhood. While no one knows yet how consumers will exactly come to utilize Glass, the marketing potential is huge both for Google and the billions of users who wrangle its search algorithms.

 

And of course, Google isn’t alone—naturally, Apple has something in the works, too.

NEWRingItUp_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

At the Laurie’s Chocolates stand at the Ottsville Farmers’ Market in Pennsylvania, an intoxicating scent emanates from the handcrafted blends, from the balsamic and Merlot truffles, to the steaming pot of hot cocoa.

 

Some other flavors now in the mix: MasterCard and Visa.

 

Standing behind the table loaded with her confections at the bustling weekend market, chocolatier Laurie Douglass is more than happy to take credit cards, and does so with her Android mobile phone connected to a small swipe device. Laurie’s Chocolates has been in business for 10 years and Douglass says the payment alternative has been a big boost at events, where sometimes she says she takes in almost half of her sales this way. Through just the first two months of 2012, Douglass said her smartphone-based sales reached half of her total mobile app sales for last year, which included her busy Christmas season.

 

Welcome to the new world of mobile payments. A flotilla of iPads, tablets, and smartphones are giving small businesses inexpensive new ways to tap customers’ plastic in an increasingly cash-less society. Last year, mobile commerce sales in the U.S. were expected to hit $5.3 billion, up 83 percent from 2010, according to Barclays Capital. Forrester Research projects that figure will climb to $31 billion by 2016.

 

RingItUp_PQ.jpgThe technology is becoming increasingly visible, from Girl Scout troops selling cookies to the political footmen fundraising in the field for the Obama and Romney presidential campaigns, to even polished ads on cable TV.

 

It’s also giving a much-needed boost to small businesses. And it’s not just tech-savvy entrepreneurs who are tapping in: A quick glance at the type of small business owners who are using mobile payment services shows plumbers, home inspectors, photographers, a hot-tub shop, dog-walkers, a few sandwich joints, and even a psychiatrist.

 

“I am seeing many service providers and solo business owners looking for payment solutions,” says Brandie Kajino, whose small-business tech consultancy is based in Vancouver, Washington. “Many of the clients I work with would like to accept payments via credit card, and these services offer a great alternative to traditional processors.”

 

Here’s how it works: After you choose your mobile payment provider, you download that company’s app or go to a provider’s website and register as either an individual or a business. Providers will ask for identification information, let you link to the bank account where payments should go, and set up your security measures. Once approved, you’re in business. Cards can be accepted immediately if you’re willing to punch in the numbers manually, but often an additional fee will apply if you do. Most providers will ship you their small swipe devices for free, but some are also available for purchase at electronics retailers.. The swiper plugs into the output jack of a smartphone or tablet.

 

From the customer’s perspective, the process is straightforward: They swipe their card and sign their name on a touch screen. They can opt to get a receipt either via email or text message.

 

For merchants, fees vary, but they are generally lower than traditional point-of-sale outlets. They typically run less than 3 percent on all swiped transactions, and have a higher rate (and additional, flat fees at anywhere from 15 cents to 25 cents per transaction) for manually keyed in purchases.

 

Most mobile payment services transfer funds to your account as soon as the next day, and many boast a free card reader and no startup fees or contracts. It’s a far cry from the cost of installing and leasing the traditional hardware necessary to accept credit cards, which can run as high as $4,000 to $5,000 for a startup. And that doesn’t include interchange and transmission fees that routinely total higher than 2.5 percent of each transaction.

 

Some limits: You’ll need a mobile device that runs newer versions of Apple iOS or Google Android as its operating system—most of these systems can’t be used with a PC or laptop. (A few mobile payment systems also work with some BlackBerry models.) And at some point the mobile app percentage rates may stop being a deal depending on your business’s monthly volume and average purchase price. For example, a business processing 200 monthly transactions at an average $50 a purchase might save money by using the standard credit card merchant system.

 

How to get started? Some advice from tech consultant Brandie Kajino:

 

- Look into the fees, and be sure you know what you're getting.

 

- Go with a reputable vendor.

 

- Get referrals from other business owners you trust, or an expert who keeps abreast of these technology solutions.

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