Beautiful hardware is visually pleasing, but utterly useless without practical software applications. For instance, Nokia’s Lumia 1020 offered incredible features such as the highest megapixel count on the market. Yet the hardware’s success fell short mainly due to a lackluster Windows OS and an absence of quality in the Windows App market. Even though the enterprise and consumer markets are acclimated with mobile, we are now on the cusp of a new period of disruption from wearable computing devices.

The recently released Samsung Galaxy Gear smart-watch, Google Glass and even the rumored iWatch have captured the interest of the public and analysis from industry insiders. While the market value of wearables is expected to reach $10 billion by 2015, there is much ambiguity regarding the software applications that will bring such devices to life.

‘Seamless Discovery’ Through Smarter Software

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic, recently discussed challenges associated with the type of ‘seamless discovery’ and augmented reality features currently hypothesized for wearables:

“The wildcard is going to be the content. No one publishes a city, they publish a magazine or a book or a news site.”

Adapting to the major changes in screen size, interface, and functional capabilities will be a major challenge for software developers. While gazing at Time Square through Glass, how will the device compute what information to display when viewing hundreds of touch points via geo-fencing, visual recognition and QR codes? While there has been much discussion regarding “The Internet of Things”, our software capabilities are nowhere near the benchmark required to provide such experiences for users.

Imagine the case of an aviation mechanic working on an Airbus A321 equipped with a pair of smart-glasses, smart-gloves or a smart-watch. He or she can communicate directly with extensive computer systems and sensors within a plane’s complex mechanics. A software program for visual recognition can track where arms, hands and other body parts are in relation to sensitive controls and dangerous mechanisms. With over 90 workers suffering fatal injuries each week, this technology can literally save lives. If the mechanic is about to perform an incorrect operation (that can lead to millions in damages or even death), a vibrating and auditory notification on his wearable can prevent him from doing so.

Such innovation however, will require software applications that communicate constantly with computerized machinery. Madrigal offered some insight from John Hanke, former Google Maps chief and the brain behind Field Trip an app that touts seamless discovery for tourists:

“You don’t want to show every dry cleaner and 7-Eleven in a floating bubble, I want to show that incremental information that you don’t know. What would a really knowledgeable neighborhood friend tell you?”

Although Fieldtrip is built for consumers like tourists, the technology and software can be applied directly to enterprise usage. Does a floor manager really need to see every vital stat of all employees? Instead it would help to only be alerted when vitals or other conditions are abnormal.

Apps Must Present Content in Context

The idea of software responding to context for each user, will be crucial for mass market success of wearables. Information stemming from smart-uniforms and smart-helmets will need to be displayed, integrated, and discovered in a readable way. In the context of the aviation mechanic scenario, a floor manager would require a unique software application for monitoring mechanic health and operations. The manager can have access to health metrics regarding heart-rate, location, or time spent on task.

A major challenge for wearable app developers would be to present precisely relevant information through a dramatic change in screen size.

Either way enterprise software will need to attend to such personalization and contextual notifications. Apps will not only need to attend to a new user interface (UI), but also a major shift in screen display. If developers thought designing for the iPhone’s limited screen was a challenge, they are in for a surprise. It is a definite challenge to display troves of information on the iWatch or Google Glass display, which is equivalent to viewing a 25 inch screen from 8 feet away.

For some perspective, as of October 2013 Twitter generates 175 million Tweets every day. So how will a Twitter Glass app display the most relevant and pertinent Tweets as they are created? The Timeline Card format is restricting even for displaying 140 characters. The same issue will be faced for developers working on enterprise wearable computing apps. With information such as hundreds of vital signals, geographic locations, proximity to machines and other metrics, developers face the same challenge.

Content creation within apps as well as via websites and social media will have to adapt to offer worthwhile information that is readable and consumable. Without engaging and readable content, apps built for wearables will provide little value.

Keep It Seamless, Stupid

Although the future of wearable computing is still uncertain, it is safe to assert that wearable devices will depend less and less on touch gestures, buttons, and swipes, in favor of intuitive notifications, discovery features and event tracking software like Field Trip or Google Now. Interacting with the physical device should not be a harbinger for performing functions and gaining value from these devices. Without advances in notification technology, visual recognition software, and app development, the first generation of wearables may end up like the pager or Palm Pilot.

*Originally published on Wired