The Apple Watch in the Enterprise

My Apple Watch arrived on Friday in Lime Green. The reason for purchase – to discover whether wearables will be relevant to Enterprise Software. Can this tiny screen and basic user interface do something actually useful?

First Impressions

The amazing thing about the Apple Watch is it’s an instant friend. It’s not like I had time to waste on Friday (the SAP SAPPHIRE annual conference is just 9 days out) so I threw it on my wrist, spent 2 minutes configuring it via the Apple Watch iPhone app that had automatically installed itself at some stage in the last month, and left it on my wrist to sync. Top marks to the folks at Apple for integration. You need an iPhone 5, or above, which is fine by me.

It then seemed to pick up what apps are on my iPhone, and transfer them to my watch. Some are obviously very useful (Hotels Tonight, Uber, TripIt), some are theoretically useful (the Twitter and Skype apps don’t really do much) and some are downright annoying (Whole Foods, I do NOT want you tapping on my wrist to tell me I’ve got a new reward!).

Haptic Hell

The next thing that happened is what I affectionately call Haptic Hell. All of a sudden, I’ve got my iPhone on my wrist. It seemed like every few seconds I got an email, text, Slack Message, Twitter Direct Message, Skype, or some similar message.

Now I’ve spent some years making my email quite clean. All lists, spam, ham, and other non-essential emails all find their ways automatically into folders. Despite this, I get a good few hundred emails in my inbox every day, and that means my wrist gets a tap (I soon turned off the sound) several times a minute.

Two things are for sure. First, busy people in the Enterprise will turn off a lot of notifications – I already turned a bunch off. You can’t be tortured with a miniature cattle-prod 700 times a day. Second, Apple need to get the software to be much more self-tuning with alerts. It looks like I can configure it only to show emails where I mark the sender as VIP, but then I might miss some great stuff.

Google has gone a long way with GMail to focus you on the emails you need to read now, and the Apple Watch must do this, or I will eventually get bored and turn it off.

Version 1.0

When the Apple iPhone came out in June 2007, I happened to be in the US, so I picked up a first generation device with iOS 1.0 installed. The same happened in April 2010 with the Apple iPad. Actually the same happened with the PowerBook G4 in 2001, but that’s another story.

With each of those devices we saw a similar story – the first generation device was somewhat clunky, and later generations really brought out the best in it – both in terms of hardware, operating system but also in terms of ecosystem.

As I mentioned before, most of the apps aren’t there yet. Many are missing (Viber for one), and many others are very basic (Twitter does only Timeline and Top Trends, neither of which I care about). This will come in time, as people learn how to use the screen and crown.

Usability

Usability right now is around a 5/10. Performance is much better than the early reviewers suggested – I counted 8 seconds for it to lock my location in Uber and show the “request” button.

My main pain is it doesn’t know when to turn itself on and off. Especially when I’m working on a laptop, the screen will turn itself on constantly because it thinks I’m looking at it. Other times, especially when sat on a sofa or in bed, you have to make a conscious move to turn the screen on. That’s quite painful, but no doubt it will get fixed in future revisions.

Battery life is fine, provided you know you have to charge it every day. My main gripe there is that the magnetic charger doesn’t come as a disk with a lightening port. That way I could share the cable with an iPhone. I hate cables, but no doubt someone will think of this and make one.

Security

The security is only OK. It has a lock, and locks when you take it off, which is very nice, but it’s only locked with a code. This defaults to 4 digits but can be set to a complex passcode, and can be configured to unlock when you use the fingerprint scanner on the iPhone.

Personally I’d like to turn the passcode on the Watch off, and only unlock it using the iPhone. This would be much more secure. In the meantime, I set a complex 8-digit numeric password (00000000). Just kidding.

Enterprise Email Integration

This isn’t bad, and not great either (see a trend here?). A lot of the time it says that the message can’t be displayed on the phone (try your best!!!), and it doesn’t do essential activities like being able to automatically join conference calls on your iPhone at the right time.

Calendar appointments come through as emails which is annoying, so there’s definitely some work to do here.

What I like most is the ability to glance and see who emailed you. This way you can decide if it needs actioning right now, which can ironically avoid disturbances.

Apple Watch in the Enterprise

What I learnt is that I believe that successful Apple Watch apps will have the following characteristics:

  • Have simple micro-functions. Uber just has a “request” button, and Hotels Tonight has a list of hotels and a “Book Now” button.
  • Have full micro-functionality. Wall Street Journal gives you a teaser of news articles with no way to read the full article, which is pretty useless. They need to figure a different way.
  • Be actionable in 5-15 seconds. The sweet spot for Apple Watch activity is 5-15 seconds, or you would be better off getting your iPhone out your pocket.
  • Be necessary. Notifications must be necessary! Whole Foods Rewards is a great example of a Bad Watch App, because it bugs you about rewards that you don’t want an email about, let alone someone tapping you on the wrist.

With that in mind, I’ve started to play with ideas with Bluefin developer Brenton o’Callaghan, for pulling Enterprise data onto the wrist. Here’s a few we are toying with:

  • Workflow approvals. Not for all approvals, but managers on the move who need to urgently approve items might benefit.
  • Sales leads. Field sales folks might appreciate knowing about leads more soon.
  • Timesheets. Consultants could get a notification once a day at 6pm, offering them a list of recently used WBS elements to book that day to.
  • Real-Time Analytics. Small graphs, or percentage numbers – showing sales/revenue targets, customer support numbers, staff utilization.

With each of those ideas, we’ve tried to take into account the rules above.

Final Words

The Apple Watch has convinced me that wearables are here to stay. It is a very flawed first generation device, but it has shown me the future. I don’t advise you to buy one if you’re not an early adopter – the Apple Watch 2 will no doubt be an enormous step forward.

What’s important to note is the Apple Watch is a very personal device – it feels like a friend. A slightly awkward friend right now, but a friend. It’s a friend that tells me what’s going on, in real-time. It taps me on the wrist and tells me what’s going on in the world.

I highly recommend that Enterprise Software folks have a serious think about what this means to the future of software. It’s just as significant a move as the iPhone was in 2007. Let’s check back in 2023 and see if I was right?

3 thoughts on “The Apple Watch in the Enterprise

  1. Marilyn Pratt (@marilynpratt)

    Well done! Really appreciate your take on this appliance. It will be fascinating to observe emerging trends around its use. It will be fun to understand the creation of less intuitive applications. We are sure to see plenty of those

  2. martin english (@martin_english)

    Initially the Apps for wearables (Apple or Android) appear to be ‘just’ extensions of existing smartphone apps, to the point that it appears that your xPhone ‘drives’ the iWatch. When the radio technology gets to the point that wearables can operate independently, we will start seeing some really innovation 🙂

    BTW, for notifications – The wearable need to be able to set it’s own priorities, entirely seperate from those of the smartphone it’s connected to – A typical example is where I’m not interested in any notifications from the boss while I’m out jogging (I may be destressing from dealing with them !!), but I always want a notification when the wife mails / phones.

    hth

  3. johnstuddert

    Thanks for your thoughts, I’ve been watching this myself though have held off buying as of yet.

    Regarding Twitter specifically, from what I’ve heard I’d recommend you try out Twitterific on the Watch instead of the official Twitter app.

    Agree on the characteristics of a successful Watch app, except possibly for “Have full micro-functionality”. This is tricky as for many apps their primary function just plain won’t work very well on such a small screen. Your example of the WSJ is one – would you really read a full WSJ article on your watch? I don’t know, I don’t have one, but I find it hard to imagine I wouldn’t just pull out my iPhone to do that. Perhaps provide a synopsis of the article (sounds like they already do something similar) but with a “hand-off” feature where clicking on a button to read the full article loads it onto your iPhone (ideally in a ReadLayer/Instapaper way but I can’t see that happening from within a news media app itself as they’d lose advertising)?

    Regarding the enterprise space ideas, again they sound very good. The workflow approval type functionality, to expand on your point about urgent approvals, could be set up in such a way as to allow tiered levels of urgency, the top level of which results in a tap via your Watch, whereas the lower levels just sit in your inbox. In fact I see this as being the way a lot of apps will try to resolve the issue with notifications overload.

    On that point, the problem with Apple trying to determine for you which notifications are important enough is that the Watch is a platform, not an app. You could argue that email (as in your Gmail example) is a platform too but for the purposes of what you’re describing Apple would have to be able to apply heuristics across many such platforms (you yourself list text, Slack Message, Twitter Direct Message, Skype and there are of course many more), not just email. It’s not an unsolvable problem but to do that Apple would need to deep dive into your data within each app to be able to learn what you consider important. This of course would kick off an almighty s***storm amongst privacy advocates, and runs counter to Apple’s business model which they’ve already highlighted as differentiating them from Google/Android in that they don’t want to harvest your data.

    Ultimately I think you’re dead right that the notifications issue needs to be looked at, but it’ll need to be dealt with by each individual app/platform, not by Apple. This may well end up being a differentiator that helps determine the success of these comms platforms relative to each other.

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