When the Apple Watch was released a couple of years ago, it signalled a further step Apple was taking to ingratiate themselves into every aspect of our increasingly digital lifestyle and workplace. The closest parallel I can think of is the iPad. When it was released many, including me, questioned Apple’s strategy as it looked a lot like a solution looking for a problem to solve. But it spawned a massive market that was followed by Android devices and, ultimately, the Microsoft Surface and a new way to think about mobile computing. The Apple Watch seemed to be a similar play but it’s not working out the same way.
I’m an Apple Watch owner. I purchased mine at full price from a Nike store in Las Vegas – it’s not a corporate freebie or “long-term review unit”. It’s not a perfect device but it serves the purposes I bought it for. I can easily check my calendar, get alerts for things that are important for me (once I tuned the notifications to how I like them and not the defaults of everything sending alerts), and when I’m exercising (I use RunKeeper and FitList for running and strength training).
But business apps, that are useful, are thin on the ground and getting even skinnier.
Slashgear reports that a number of large companies have been quietly dropping watchOS support from their apps. Google, Amazon, Target and eBay have done that.
So, while the number of health and fitness apps seems to be growing – the inclusion of an integrated GPS/GLONASS receiver and waterproofing gave that sector a massive boost – enterprise and other business apps seem to be waning.
What’s in the Apple Watch for business users?
Once you get past calendar apps and notifications the number of business functions you can actually execute on the Apple Watch are quite limited.
Messaging is useful – I like being able to quickly reply to texts and IMs from Messenger, HipChat and Slack either using canned responses or by using the “Scribble” function to quickly write a response on the screen. And being able to check my schedule is really handy.
Some apps, such as Xero, let you do business stuff on the Apple Watch so the potential is there. Similarly, when IBM announced their partnership with Apple a couple of years ago, one of the things they focussed on was watch apps.
But when I talk to businesses, they just don’t see the Apple Watch, or other smartwatch platforms, as particularly valuable.
When the iPhone and iPad were introduced, they changed the way people interacted with computers. And while iOS, and indeed all mobile platforms, require compromises in terms of what we can do the Apple Watch is very limited. It’s a competent data display device, within the constraints of its small display, but you can’t really do anything that will change how you conduct business with it.
Where will the Apple Watch be in 2020?
Apple is playing the long game with the Apple Watch. With about $250B sloshing around in their various bank accounts around the world, they can be patient. And they can invest in developing the platform to give more to business users.
When the iPhone was introduced it was a very limited device. But six months or so after its release, the App Store followed and it gained massive consumer appeal. Then it infiltrated businesses, quickly usurping the market leaders of the time, Microsoft with Windows Mobile and BlackBerry. My suspicion is Apple is planning a similar strategy. Start by building the consumer market – partnerships with Nike and Hermes help with that – and then enter the enterprise by stealth.
Once there’s a critical mass of business users wanting access to corporate data and systems on the Apple Watch, they expect enterprise developers to follow suit.
For that reason, I expect the Apple Watch to slowly grow as a business device. Unlike the iPhone which solved a bunch of usability problems (who remembers having to manually fiddle with connection settlings when you moved from home to work to cellular connections?), the Apple Watch doesn’t solve any problems. But for developers, it’s a platform that gives them an opportunity to try new things.
What do you think? Is the Apple Watch a waste of time and money? Or will it, slowly, evolve into a viable platform for business users?