With 2015 approaching, Howard Simms, co-founder and director of the UK’s leading mobile app developer Apadmi, gives his technology predictions for the year ahead and, in particular, how we may begin to see increased use of technology in the public sector.
In 2014, retailers began to use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, such as the proximity system iBeacon, to advertise their products directly to consumers.
There is no reason why the public sector couldn’t also begin to utilise BLE technology too. With a general election coming up, iBeacons could be used to keep the electorate up-to-date with up-to-date information specifically about their constituency’s candidates. Given the continuing fall in voter turnout in recent years, this could be a very good way to re-engage voters with the electoral process and hopefully improve turnout.
In the same vein, local councils could also use the technology to alert residents to events. For example, when someone is in a bookshop, they could be alerted to upcoming events at their local library, or when they are in a sports store, iBeacons could alert them to new fitness classes at their local leisure centre.
Speaking of fitness, the health and fitness technology market is a big one, and this looks set to continue to grow. In particular, don’t be surprised if you see more and more wearable tech entering the marketplace in 2015. The Apple Watch is set to be launched in early 2015 and one of its headline features is the ability to measure the wearer’s daily physical activity and use this information over time to offer personalised fitness goals. And it’s inevitable Apple’s competitors will look to follow where Apple have led.
You should also expect to see fashion brands beginning to explore wearable technology in the coming year, particularly given that fashion giant Ralph Lauren has already taken the initiative by announcing The Polo Tech Shirt. The shirt has sensors throughout that collect the user's biometric data, including heart rate, calories burned, distance travelled and intensity of movement. This information is transmitted to a smartphone app, where it is analysed before recommendations are made to the wearer. These features have been incorporated into wearables before, but Ralph Lauren is the first recognisable designer to develop this sort of product itself, and so, it increases the likelihood other fashion brands will follow suit.
In addition, Apple and Google brought out healthcare-focused Software Development Kits, known as SDKs, earlier this year in the form of Apple HealthKit and GoogleFit, which both work in conjunction with hardware to monitor the user’s health. Therefore, it is likely an increasing number of other products will also begin to use SDKs to actively monitor the health and fitness of their users throughout the year.
Once again, there are opportunities for the public sector to utilise this new technology. For example, the NHS is currently moving toward a centralised patient records database. Wearable technology then could conceivably be used to help doctors access a patient’s records while on the move via Google Glass, while products like Apple Watch or the Polo Tech Shirt could be used to monitor a patient’s vital signs, thus eliminating the need for paperwork and the multiple cumbersome machines that are currently needed to do the same job that a piece of wearable tech could do. Tellingly, researchers at Liverpool John Moore University are already talking about the possibility of weaving this technology into hospital bracelets as well.
Finally, wearable tech could also be of benefit to the police force. For example, police officers regularly take fitness tests, and products like Apple Watch, Nike+ FUEL band or Jawbone UP could be used to monitor officers’ physical exertions during tests or while out on the beat to help ensure officers are literally fit enough for the job. Meanwhile, Google Glass could be used in place of existing, bulky bodycams and radios to help officers record the details of crime scenes. Google Glass could also provide another means of getting information to officers about incidents they’ve been called out to, including previous activity in that area, the criminal record of a suspect and any other issues officers may need to be aware of.
Given the unit cost of products like the Apple Watch (expected to be around £300), the Polo Tech Shirt (around £125) and Google Glass (around £1000) though, it is unlikely the public sector will be able to provide this kind of technology to healthcare professionals and police officers en masse, and so, it may be that rank-and-file public sector workers won’t benefit from this technology for a while yet.