Salesforce unveils big push into wearable technology
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Salesforce unveils big push into wearable technology

by Patrick Hoge for San Francisco Business Times

Salesforce.com, a pioneer in cloud computing, has usually been an early adopter of new computing and related services trends, launching an app store for integrated applications, embedding social networking in its products and transforming its technical base for smartphones.

Now the trend du jour is wearable computing, and Salesforce has jumped on the bandwagon in a big way, as shown by recent investments in wearable startups and an initiative to get developers to build applications that connect devices worn on the face, wrist and body with Salesforce’s technology.

In addition, Salesforce has planned a keynote speech and a series of events focused on wearable computing for Monday’s opening of the company’s annual Dreamforce convention in San Francisco, and it will be showcasing apps and devices from numerous companies. Next Wednesday, popular music star and entrepreneur Will.i.am will also unveil a mysterious new wearable “smartband” at the conference.

“This is an incredibly hot topic. We see this as the next mobile revolution,” said Lindsey Irvine, Salesforce’s global director of strategic partnerships and business development.

Salesforce’s interest in wearables illustrates that in addition to being a dominant provider of business applications, the company is also a major computing platform that other developers use to access customers or actually run their own businesses, Irvine said. Wearables are just one emerging technology that will get attention at Dreamforce, and are part of Salesforce’s larger goal of capitalizing on the so-called Internet of Things, which refers to the increasing number of Internet connected devices that are spewing out unprecedented quantities of data that promise countless insights to come.

To get out front on the wearable trend, Salesforce in June launched Salesforce Wear to entice developers to create more enterprise applications for wearable devices, with support for devices from Samsung Electronics Co., Google and Pebble, among others.

The response from companies both wanting to develop and use wearable applications was very strong, and Salesforce last month said it was also adding support for devices from Epson, Jawbone, Meta and Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality headset division and Vuzix, among others.

Apps already available, meanwhile, include one that connects field technicians with experts through video cameras in headsets and automatically updates Salesforce case files; one for remote monitoring of medical patients’ vital signs; and one for automatically recognizing faces of trusted care providers through a headset camera, something that could be useful for people with memory loss.

Salesforce is investing in some of the companies in an effort to stimulate the development of a wearable ecosystem, said Ludovic Ulrich, Salesforce’s director of startup relations.

“I’m passionate about the space,” Ulrich said. “Our Salesforce customers are telling us they want to have wearables in the enterprise.”

One recently announced investment was in Bionym. a Canadian company that has developed an access management application that uses a person’s unique cardiac rhythm to verify identity.

Monday’s sessions will include presentations from wearable experts from Google, which has developed the much ballyhooed Glass smart-glasses; Thalmic, a maker of gesture control armbands for use with digital devices; Accenture, which has a San Jose lab where applications such as sensor-filled uniforms are being developed; and APX Labs, a Washington, D.C.-area developer of industry specific augmented reality applications for use with smart-glasses.

APX launched in 2010 to serve U.S. defense agencies, but over time CEO Brian Ballard said it became clear that opportunities in the private sector were far greater, particularly in sectors like oil and gas where remote workers maintaining equipment could benefit from technical support.

“Other enterprises are much larger than the military,” said Ballard. “There is an enormous number of people, in the tens of millions, in the deskless category.”
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