Over the past decade, relentless technological innovation has transformed meeting planning from a time-consuming and mostly manual process to a streamlined and more efficient automated undertaking.
Looking to the future, technology providers now aim to do the same thing for both planners and attendees with wearable tech.
And although many planners and attendees consider their smartphones as a permanent fixture at the end of their wrist and thereby wearable, the new horizon points to things that are truly wearable, such as Google Glass and the new Apple Watch. But the hype and hope stretch far beyond just those two devices.
“For much of 2014, wearable technology has been the subject of great hype and even greater skepticism, fueled by speculation around whether these emerging devices will have a positive or negative impact on our lives — if they will have any impact at all,” observes PricewaterhouseCoopers in an extensive 2014 report titled “The Wearable Future.”
“Our data shows that roughly one in five American adults already owns some type of wearable device — on par with tablets in 2012, when the adoption rate sat at 20 percent after just two years in the market,” the report stated. “Today, more than 40 percent of Americans own a tablet. And just as tablets faced skepticism in their early days, with consumers and critics questioning the need for new devices, so too does wearable technology. Issues around cost, style and necessity are holding consumers back.
“Plus, we already have the perfect device — the smartphone. Throughout our research, consumers repeatedly wanted to lump the smartphone into the wearable category — to them, we are already “wearing” our phones everywhere. For wearable products to take off, they will need to carve out a distinct value proposition that a phone alone cannot deliver. And because the phone is such an everyday fixture, for the short term, at least, wearable technology will need to seamlessly integrate with our existing technology. This will lead to two spheres of wearables — primary wearables, those that stand alone or act as centralizing hubs for information, and secondary wearables, which will serve up specific information that then gets relayed to a primary wearable,” the report noted.
Meanwhile, at least one of the initial precursors to the wearable revolution has performed so poorly that it has gone into rehab.
Google Glass, an eyeglass-based device that was loudly heralded as the coolest thing since the Internet, has almost faded from sight. But the technology is not dead yet. “The rise and fall of Google Glass from cool-edge tech to bar room punch line may be about to take another turn,” Mashable noted earlier this year. “A new set of Federal Communications Commission documents filed by Google offers a peek at an upcoming device that is equipped with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi functionality, just like the first version of Google Glass.”
“ When you start thinking about how all this (wearable technology) is going to come down to meetings and events, it’s fun to speculate about it, but it’s pretty early in the game.” — Corbin Ball
The documents detailing the device, called “GG1,” don’t go into great detail about what the device does, Mashable reports, “but tidbits of information, surfaced by Droid Life, point toward the possibility that it might just be the second version of Google Glass.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that a new Google Glass model for business applications — a mini-computer attached to a button-and-hinge system that fits on glasses and can be removed — is in the works, and that a new consumer model is “at least a year away.”
Corbin Ball, a leading meeting industry technology expert and consultant based in Bellingham, Washington, acknowledges that, “Google Glass has come and gone, essentially. But the concept is great. It’s just that the first versions of Google Glass were just far too geeky for people to accept.”
However, Ball believes that despite its initial setbacks, the basic concept behind Google Glass holds great promise in general, and even more promise for meeting-related applications.
Ball says that the interesting area for future development — and impact on meetings — is sensors and digital assistants that will help attendees execute and navigate meetings, especially large, multifaceted ones that represent a logistical or navigational challenge, such as a giant convention center or sprawling metropolis at the destination.
The specific capabilities that a Google Glass-like device could deliver include step-by-step navigation throughout a meeting venue or an exhibit hall with visual and/or audio directions; real-time video conferencing; note-taking, including video with sound and still picture recording as a result of a voice or touch command; displaying speaker presentation notes and slides; the facilitation of networking; gaming applications; use as mini-teleprompters for speakers; the simple, easy video recording of meeting spaces or other onsite amenities during site inspection trips; and social media interaction using video, geo-location and networking apps.
Perhaps no organization knows more about meetings and their future than Cvent. And like Ball, the company touts the potential of wearable technology as a genuine force for innovation in the industry. “It’s one trend that event organizers should be paying attention to,” Cvent reported in an article on the topic. “The idea that technology meets fashion meets efficiency is at the core of wearables. Manufacturers of these gadgets know that if they go mainstream, then they need to look as cool as they seem. And it goes beyond fashion. More and more people will expect that technology makes their lives easier without being intrusive. Wearable technology solves this by seamlessly blending into peoples’ lives.”
Next-generation technology that is literally wearable also addresses common challenges that users of current smartphone technology face on a regular basis at meetings, Cvent notes. For example, it’s often rather awkward to shake hands or give someone a hug with a smartphone or tablet in your hands. That’s not so if your computer is worn on your person. In addition, an almost incalculable number of phones and tablets are misplaced or lost altogether at meetings. Not so with wearables.
Cvent also speculates on the potential meeting-related benefits of wearable technology, which include devices that can serve as microphones that make it easier to communicate verbally, especially in large, noisy spaces. Exhibit managers could use wearable devices to track attendee traffic patterns less expensively than current technologies such as RFID. And in the future, increasingly popular mobile apps will be built into smartwatches so attendees can easily use those apps onsite without the hassle of a phone.
“Wearable technology is still in its infancy,” Cvent says, “but has potential to be a great tool for event planners.”
The Apple Watch, introduced earlier this year to mixed reviews, could be the device that single-handedly (no pun intended) catapults wearable technology into the realm of practical reality.
“I think that one indicator of how things go when it comes to the future of wearable technology will be the Apple Watch, if it really takes off, “ Ball says. “If it does, I think it’s going to be a game changer when it comes to wearables.”
As a result, he says, tech enthusiasts are monitoring the consumer acceptance and performance of the device very carefully. “It has the potential to be the biggest wearable product out there and really open people’s eyes to the capabilities of these devices,” Ball says. “There were already other smartwatches out there, like Pebble, but the Apple Watch is supposed to take things to a whole new level.”
It also has a formidable competitor, the Android watch.
But both types of devices present clear challenges and have uncertain futures, The Wall Street Journal noted in a May 27 story. “The [Android] and Apple Watch both suffer from sluggish performance, require some socially awkward behavior like talking to your wrist, and will likely be obsolete in a year.”
If rapid obsolescence does indeed kill the first two major iterations of the smartwatch, that certainly does not bode well for the future of the technology. But only time can tell what the outcome will be. Prognostications about new technologies have famously been proved wrong in the past.
And there are major hoteliers who are already investigating the onsite use of Apple Watches as tools for improved guest services. “We envision endless ways [the] Apple Watch could help us enhance our guests’ experiences at our hotels,” a senior executive at Starwood Hotels & Resorts told Hotel News Now in February. A watch also could someday enable guests to avoid the front desk altogether at check in, then use the watch for keyless entry into their room, he added.
Hotel News Now also reported a genuine innovation that is already in use. “Palladium Hotel Group, a Spanish hotel chain, recently unveiled its own high-tech wristbands at Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel and Hard Rock Hotel Ibiza, both on the Spanish island of Ibiza,” HNN reported. “These bracelets allow guests to access their rooms and other facilities, pay for meals and shop using an assigned PIN code and participate in special drink and nightclub promotions.”
MagicBands, wearable wristbands, allow guests at Walt Disney World Resort to check in at FastPass+ entrances, enter parks, unlock hotel room doors and more. Now MyMagic+ is reshaping how meeting planners and attendees experience Walt Disney World Resort by allowing them to personalize their Disney Meetings experience. Using the website MyDisneyExperience.com and free mobile app, Disney FastPass+ service and MagicBands, attendees can book dining reservations and reserve access to select attractions before even leaving home. Planners also may select one of the popular MagicBand colors for all of their attendees, so as to complement their event theme.
So, even to doubters of the broader notion of wearable technology as a global consumer phenomenon, there can be no doubt that hotels and other meeting vendors can find creative and innovative ways to provide better experiences for meeting planners and attendees.
The more pressing issue in the meeting industry at the moment is that there is little awareness among meeting planners and hosts about what wearable technology represents and how it could impact their roles and the participation of their attendees.
“We’re at the very early stages of deployment right now,” Ball says. “When you start thinking about how all this is going to come down to meetings and events, it’s fun to speculate about it, but it’s pretty early in the game.”
There is no question, Ball says, that as yet unseen generations of wearable devices could dramatically impact meetings and events. “But one challenge is the question of how they are going to reach ubiquity, how we’re going to get these technologies down to the level of use at meetings and events. Like anything else, for it to really start taking off, you have to reach some kind of critical mass for it to have real impact.”
And at its most fundamental and valuable level, Ball says, any new technology must contribute in an innovative way to the ability of meeting planners and attendees to communicate and interact with one another. C&IT