Apple Watch: Getting ready for enterprise smart watches

The Apple App Store lists over 30 apps for the Apple Watch. Can Apple’s new wearable device make it in the enterprise?

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The Apple App Store already lists over 30 apps for the Apple Watch, only a day after it was confirmed the device will be on sale from 24 April. But can Apple's new wearable device make it in the enterprise?

Apple has become a watch maker, a hundred years after Rolex -- a name synonymous with quality watch making -- was created, joining Samsung, Microsoft and others in the smart watch and wearable technology market.

According to analyst Gartner, the wearable devices market for fitness products was worth $70m in 2014. This is forecast to grow to $170m by 2017. But fitness apps for consumers is not the only opportunity for software developers.

In the Five urgent truths about the future of wearables  report, Forrester Research analyst  JP Gownder, noted: "While consumers' interest in wearables has grown strong, businesses' demand for wearables is even greater. Today, 68% of global technology and business decision-makers say that wearables are a priority for their firm, with 51% calling it a moderate, high, or critical priority. This is comparable with the mobile landscape in 2010, when 43% of enterprises identified employees using mobile devices as a critical or high priority."

According to Gownder, businesses could use smart watches and other wearable devices to augment data analytics. He wrote: "In the future, cognitive computers (like IBM's Watson) and voice-controlled intelligent agents (like Siri, Cortana, or Google Now) used with wearable devices will augment the skills of humans on the ground, helping them identify and act on specific problems."

Rethink apps for Apple Watch

Apple's electronic timepiece runs iOS and offers the wearer a navigation button in the watch's crown, along with touch and an accelerometer.

These user interface (UI) elements, as well as the small screen size, mean that apps need to behave differently compared to those on other iOS devices.

While, from an app design perspective, an iPad tablet could be regarded as an iPhone with a larger screen, the Apple Watch's retina display is just over an inch wide, which means apps need to look and behave very differently.

Apple's Human Interface Design Guide for the Apple Watch discusses a new UI feature called Digital Touch . It states that a raise of the wrist shows the time and new alerts. It recommends using the digital crown for accelerated scrolling and single tap gesture as the primary way that users interact with an app.

But unlike the iPhone, Apple Watch does not support multi-finger gestures such as pinches.

Smart watch analytics

Salesforce.com is one of a number of enterprise software companies building apps for the Apple Watch. The company is providing analytics on the smart watch. Raj Mistry, senior vice president, solution engineering at Salesforce.com, said: "Salesforce Analytics on the Apple Watch allows you to get insights on a watch so there is much more immediacy."

There is also a new Salesforce1 app, which supports notifications on the Apple Watch. This could be used on a customer care service desk, for example, where the watch wearer would be alerted if a critical service level is about to be missed. 

Mistry said: "Notification on a smart watch is pretty key. Later this year we will introduce actionable notifications." This will enable the user to act on the alert directly on the Apple Watch.

Roberta Cozza , research director at Gartner, said: "Given the partnership with Salesforce, it is only a matter of time before smart watches will enter the enterprise."

With prices starting at £299 and going up to £13,000 for a gold Apple Watch, the device is clearly aimed at the well-off consumer who already has an iPhone. But this is unlikely to be a barrier to enterprise adoption. Cozza said: "The iPhone started in the consumer market. Now iPhones are used in the enterprise."

Challenges in the enterprise

However, she said wearable technology will find it more difficult to break into the enterprise, as there needs to be a business case to use a smart watch in business.

Companies like Yodel and TNT use wearables and handheld computers from Motorola Solutions to streamline logistics. But these are generally bulky, fully-specified computing devices.

Cozza said: "The Apple Watch, and other wearables are partial devices." In other words, they can only function fully when used in conjunction with another computing device.

More articles about Apple Watch for business

A user primarily collects information from the watch, rather than interacts in the way one would use a tablet, smartphone or PC. "The smart watch is suitable for a very specific and short task," she added. "You need to think about situations where you can just use a device on your wrist."

As an example, Cozza said an oil company could give oil platform workers  a smart watch, to collect instrument readings from the rig, rather than using an 8-inch tablet for data collection. The information collected on the smart watch could then be uploaded to a central database.

Apps for a smart watch should be context aware, according to Cozza. "You should think about scenarios where it is beneficial not to take out a smartphone."

Clearly wearable tech like the Apple Watch is coming to the enterprise in some form. For instance, in December IBM posted a video on the developer.ibm.com site, which demonstrated how to use its MobileFirst platform to create an Apple Watch app.

But it is early days for smart watches. Apple's entry into this market will inevitably stimulate interest among consumers. But, as Forrester's Gownder notes, there are potential opportunities for such devices in the enterprise too. Clearly, many consumer-facing organisations will assess whether an Apple Watch app is right for their customers, but firms also need to consider how such a device could work within the enterprise or within the context of business-to-business relationships.

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