We’re only a few weeks away from Apple releasing its newest hardware platform to the masses. The Apple Watch, Apple hopes, will do for the wearable market what the iPod did for music, iPhone did for smartphones and iPad did for tablets. The company hopes it will take a technology that has promise and make it deliver to the masses in a way that previous manufacturers have failed to do.
But will it help you at work?
The challenge in answering that question is that no one outside the Apple mothership has had any real, long-term playtime with the Apple Watch.
Of the three different collections of the Apple Watch, we’re going to focus on the Apple Watch and not the Watch Sport or Watch Edition collections that are focused on the sports and fashion markets.
Unlike many of the other smartwatches on the market, Apple has made the display – you can choose between a 42mm or a 38mm screen – touch-enabled with two other control mechanisms: the Digital Crown and a button. This allows you to do most of the things you’re accustomed to on a larger multi-touch display albeit in a slightly different way.
The Digital Crown is typical Apple – a simple and elegant device that solves several complex problems. Multi-touch gestures for zooming in and out are managed by the Digital Crown without covering the display. Pressing it brings you back to the Apple Watch’s home screen.
The value of the Apple Watch for business users will come from the apps. Without them, it’s an elegant timepiece but not much more. For example, when you’re rushing between meetings, the Maps app can provide you with directions as you’re walking.
One of the key use-cases for wearable technologies is the ability to quickly see and respond to notifications. In this regard, Apple is certainly not the first-to-market with functions such as the ability to see messages, meeting invitations and reminders. Nor is it the first to provide the ability to instantly reply using a template – Apple calls this ‘smart replies’. However, it has also added dictation so you can use your voice to create replies on the run.
The Glances function is little more than the ability to see pertinent information on the display when you need it. By using accelerometers and other hardware built into the Apple Watch, information will become visible when you raise your wrist – alerts and notifications shouldn’t appear when you’re walking or sitting. You can swipe the screen to scroll through different notifications.
None of this is new to smartwatches. But Apple seems to have managed to make the entire experience more user friendly.
The real value, beyond Apple’s flashy marketing and the inevitable cheering of Apple’s cheer squad of loyal fans, will, like the iPhone and iPad, come from the apps.
If developers get behind the Apple Watch platform, then it will deliver value. We can imagine some really interesting vertical applications being developed. For example, integration with point of sale apps in stores may allow staff to check stock levels on their wrist without needing to tap into a computer or tablet.
Frequent travellers will be able to get flight updates and schedule changes from airlines or apps, like TripIt, delivered to their wrist. They may even use their Apple Watch as their boarding pass with an extension to Passbook app. And there are the myriad social and messaging apps that businesses use today that could benefit from the Apple Watch platform.
The one downside we see is that the Apple Watch will rely on connectivity to an iPhone for many functions. The lack of an integrated GPS means location-aware apps will rely on the iPhone. We imagine that, even though the Apple Watch will use Bluetooth LE, many people will find their iPhone batteries don’t go quite as far as they used to.
So, will the Apple Watch appeal to business users? It definitely will. But without great apps that add benefits, it will be little more than an expensive wristwatch.