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The Apple Watch: A boon for the business or business bauble?

Behold, the Apple Watch. Will third-party apps make it the next big thing for the enterprise? Also in Searchlight: Tech blog GigaOm abruptly closes its doors; AP sues the U.S. Justice Department for Hillary Clinton's emails.

It's finally here: Apple this week unveiled the long-awaited Apple Watch, which officially rolls out April 24. At the event, Apple delved into the smartwatch's native functions, of which there were plenty: Users will be able to make calls and send texts, use a map for turn-by-turn navigation, keep track of upcoming meetings and appointments with a calendar app, track physical activity and heart rate, and a whole lot more.

These handy functions plus features such as its digital crown and what Apple calls a Taptic Engine no doubt wowed the consumer crowd at the event. But business folks were looking closely at one thing:how third-party apps work on the Apple Watch.

The impact of the Apple Watch on the enterprise "is going to very much depend on third-party applications … from various providers," said Van Baker, a research vice president at Gartner. And there were many exciting demonstrations of how Apple Watch customers could use various third-party apps, including hailing an Uber cab and unlocking one's hotel room door. But it was Apple's presentation of an enterprise-specific analytics app, Salesforce Wave, that hinted at the Watch's potential for various industries, according to J.P. Gownder, principal analyst at Forrester.

"We saw Salesforce immediately jump on the Apple Watch bandwagon. … Salesforce's entry is a sign that Apple Watch, though expensive, has some enterprise relevance," he said in an email. Salesforce solidified its partnership with Apple by releasing two more products in addition to Wave that are designed to work on the Apple Watch: Salesforce 1 and Salesforce Wear.

Gownder envisions the Apple Watch playing a role in some major companies that have already standardized on Apple's iOS. These companies, which include GE, typically have mobile developer centers dedicated to the platform that are set up to explore possible uses of the Watch, particularly in customer services, field work and other areas that rely on hands-free computing.

Gartner's Baker was also cautiously optimistic about the usefulness of the Watch in the enterprise. The wearable's focus on "glance-able information," or small nuggets of actionable data that the user can react to in a matter of seconds, could turn out to be a productivity driver for employees, he said. "It's not a complex thing; they're not detailed apps or anything. It's basically, 'This just happened. Do you want to do this or this?'" he said.

One could even argue that the luxury device -- the most expensive model costs well over $10,000 -- might well be a boon for some enterprises, Gownder said. "In some customer service contexts -- think luxury retail -- an Apple Watch would confer a sense of brand prestige (much as you see Macs in TV commercials and iPads used as menus in restaurants)," he said.

Yet even with these potential use cases, Gownder doesn't see the Watch as the next big thing in smart devices, in particular for enterprises that are cost-conscious or that predominantly use the Android OS. He recommends CIOs keep an eye on the enterprise use cases for the Watch.

"We'll see some experiments with Apple Watch in the enterprise … but it will be a niche usage case for certain workers in specific situations," he added.

CIO news roundup for week of March 9

Here are more tech happenings from the week:

  • Technology news blog GigaOm, which claimed a readership of 6.4 million, suddenly shut down on Monday. The news of its demise, which broke on Twitter, took both the tech blogosphere and its own staff by surprise. A company statement said the reason for the closure was because it "became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time"; Will Oremus, senior tech writer at Slate, has other ideas on why the respected blog folded.
  • The uproar over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email use rages on, despite her attempt to squash it at a press conference earlier this week. The latest development: The Associated Press sued the State Department to force the release of Clinton's email correspondence during her tenure.
  • The Central Intelligence Agency apparently played a huge part in the Justice Department's secret spy program, sources told the Wall Street Journal. The agency developed the technology for the program, which locates specific cell phones in the U.S. using devices that look like cell phone towers, they said.
  • Patrick Pichette, Google's CFO of seven years, is retiring to spend more time with his family and "enjoy a perfectly fine midlife crisis full of bliss and beauty," he wrote in a touching Google+ blog post.
  • Calling all data scientists and developers: The City of Boston is hosting HubHacks, a data visualization hackathon, that's kicking off March 14. The city is challenging participants to find valuable insights from public data sets that will benefit business owners and residents and help highlight trends and opportunities for running the city more effectively.

Check out our previous Searchlight roundups on highlights from Mobile World Congress 2015 and whether enterprises should bet on Android for Work.

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Next Steps

See previous Searchlight coverage on the Apple Watch. Then, head over to sister site SearchConsumerization to find out how the Apple Watch could impact your BYOD policy.

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