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Why Salesforce Is Trying On Wearable Computing

The company is betting that enterprises will want their data delivered to Google Glass, Pebble, and other small-screen devices.

Why Salesforce Is Trying On Wearable Computing
[Image: Flickr user Jonas Birmé]

Not that long ago, being able to quickly glance at a powerful handheld computer to pull up customer information during a meeting or sign off on a deal while on the treadmill would have seemed like science fiction. But now that we take smartphones for granted, scrolling through a phone menu during an intimate meeting can look awkward, and reaching for an iPhone while out for a run just feels like a pain.

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Salesforce,com is betting that the future lies in even less obtrusive wearable devices, like Google Glass and the Samsung Gear and Pebble smartwatches. On Tuesday, the customer relations management and business cloud computing company unveiled a new platform called Salesforce Wear that lets developers connect wearable devices to the company’s cloud systems, letting users access business data through a quick tap of a watch or simple voice commands.

“We really think wearables are the next wave,” says J.P. Rangaswami, Salesforce’s chief scientist. “The rate of change is itself quite surprising, quite amazing.”

One sample app lets users page through calendar and contact entries for a day’s entries using a Samsung Gear watch; another lets resort operators use the Bionym Nymi biorhythm-based identification armband to authenticate and cater to VIP customers as they move around a hotel.

A Google Glass example lets industrial inspectors verbally and photographically log inspection results and open trouble tickets in the Salesforce cloud, even in situations where dirty hands or protective gloves would make it hard to use a touchscreen.

Those example apps, along with developer documentation, are open source and available in GitHub, so Salesforce’s customers can build their own wearable device apps for their own needs.

“Most importantly, 1.5 million developers will be able to drive their ideas, their ingenuity into this new device while also making our customers’ lives easier,” says Rangaswami.

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Salesforce already provides smartphone and tablet apps and APIs through its Salesforce1 platform, but the company wants to let its customers access and build the right tools for different wearable devices, not just smartphone apps delivered on different screens.

“All of these new devices have different application architectures, UX patterns, and data flows,” said Adam Seligman, the company’s vice president for developer relations, in a statement. “The Wear Developer Pack handles the identity, secure API access and plumbing necessary to connect the device to the Salesforce1 Platform, letting the developer focus on innovative new use cases.”

When users first moved from desktop to laptop computers, they used the same software on smaller screens, says Rangaswami.

“All that was really changing was form factor and portability,” he says. “The nature of the information you engaged with remained the same. You carried your desktop experience on your laptop in the early stages.”

But with wearables, Salesforce plans to work with hardware and operating system makers and with its own customers to develop the right interfaces, notification systems, and levels of detail, he says.

“It becomes like an iterative learning process for the whole community,” he says. “And we will become a part of that.”

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