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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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Make your predictions here: Will Apple Watch become a useful tool in the workplace?
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I've learned not to count any new technology out completely, so I'll say yes, it'll become useful. But essential? Not so much.
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Business Workflows perform two major functions: automate business processes, and provide a realtime and queue-based information supply chain with seamless inter-enterprise collaboration in performing a specific process. Workflow items are traditionally sent to inboxes such as the Universal Work Lists defined on the enterprise portals accessible by laptops and smartphones. Typical workflow items are approvals but there is really no limit to their use cases. Workflow tasks can be anything a business wishes to perform in a standard way assigned to any organizational structure. Many approval workflow items are simple "yes" "no" questions that rapidly proceed to the next workflow agent, workflow tasks incorporate event handling such as employee on vacations or delegations.

I see nothing better suited for the Business Workflows than the Apple Watch. The relatively low costs and effectiveness of the Apple Watch is an awesome value proposition that is immediately applicable and implementable offering fantastic anywhere anytime any-task collaboration hands-free business processing. The days of scrambling for openning a session to the workflow inbox using both hands disrupting your other tasks on hand are long gone. The Apple Watch would simply ask you if you want to approve Bill Baker, your office equipment buying manager's purchase of ten Apple Watches for the field service technicians for $3250, all you do is to say "yes" or "no", and immediately continue to talk to your big client sitting beside you in the meeting.

There are many more similar scenarios for the Apple Watch. The opportunities are virtually endless, especially in the area of using Cloud as the Workflow item container, containing vast amounts of Workflow information and collaboration opportunities hands free. Business Workflow itself is due for a few huge leaps forward. I see Microsoft's Workflow taking a major interest in Apple Watch for immediate enterprise workflow implementations. Apple Watch in effect singlehandedly kicks off a revolution in Business Workflow that has long been lurking as a second fiddle in the orchestra of enterprise systems. Apple Watch will turn the tide making Business Workflow front and center for enterprises of all sizes.
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Intereresting take, James. I think you're onto something with your examples, though I'm not sure I'd count on Microsoft to be the main user of Apple technologies in the enterprise. 

Also, in your mind is there anything that separates the Apple Watch from other smartwatches in this context? What makes it more likely to be used for these workflows?
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Workflow tasks are highly event-driven in a stepwise managed protocol tightly coupled to simple manual decision making configured to centralized (cloud) structures optimized in massively secure and monitored environment. This scenario is perfect for the design and purpose of the Apple Watch. As an endpoint there is no device more trusted as the Apple Watch. Workflows are entirely based on trust, any other endpoint device is functionally as well as politically not heavyweight enough to be trusted enough at the endpoint of an enterprise workflow item. Microsoft clients and server apps such as ASP have historically been logic heavy and complex, Microsoft developers loathe any project that have less than 3 layouts and a dozen methods. The lightweight Watch apps are perfect and Visual Studio 2013 can easily link MSIL to become native Apple Watch apps. One additional advantage of iOS and Apple Watch apps is the ability to refractor the iOS / Watch apps to collaborate with IBM Cloud Analytics services but that is a long story. The Apple Watch is really the first serious foray into the Internet of Things greatly expanding the possibilities of Business Workflow.
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In my opinion, this may be one of the first missteps Apple has made in some time. I don't see Apple Watch becoming a useful tool in the workplace, in most industries. The exception to this will be within the sports and fitness training sector.
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Hi Carol -- thanks for your take! Could you elaborate more on what you mean by "misstep," and why you don't see Apple Watch becoming a useful tool in most industries? do you think it can make headway in the healthcare sector?
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I may be an outlier here, and Apple has certainly proven to make form factors others thought irrelevant part of the fabric of everyday life in a way any other company would be envious, so I won't count out the idea of a Smart Watch being a business tool that could reshape how we work and interact. Still, I have a hard time seeing how it would actually be more helpful or more effective as compared to a tablet or SmartPhone. the one area I could totally see it being more effective is in a bio-medical sense. the ability to sense body temperature, pulse, respiration and other methods of utilizing bio-feedback would certainly be better with an actual wearable. I'm just not sold on the form factor (too small for my taste, but then, it's entirely possible I am not the target market here ;) ).
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I am somewhat skeptical that the Apple Watch will become a solid business tool. It seems like it might be very helpful for personal productivity outside of work. I could see it being hugely influential for personal fitness, finance or calendaring, but beyond that, I'd think the smart phone would be a better form factor.
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Is that just a matter of comfort and current experience, though? I wonder if we would've said 15 years ago that a phone would be a good form factor for a lot of the things we now use our phones for. 
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Both solid points. I see what you're saying, Michael, but perhaps if those niches who are already experimenting or plan to experiment with the Watch are able to convey its business value to the rest of the organization, it could gain traction. We'll see!
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It's too early to make that call. In the short term, I'm skeptical about its usefulness and extremely cautious about its impact. But Apple has certainly earned the right to be taken seriously.

That said, I think this is a product that must be, sorry, watched.

The nascent personal computer wasn't anything near what it's  become today. Nor was the smart phone. Nor damn near anything else worth owning. Even much maligned Google Glass is readying it's 2nd version while the 3rd iteration is already being planned. Even the Segway has been reborn in China.

Right now, I think the iWatch is hardly more than a pretty bauble with little purpose. I suspect it'll create more narcissism and paranoia about fitness than any real health benefits. Then again, that's today's assessment and even while I quibble about it, apps are being created to turn this over-priced curiosity into a major tool.

Since this is Apple, it's worth giving them the benefit of the doubt. I'll let the early adopters give them the benefit of their money, but Ill be watching carefully.
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