What the Apple Watch Means for Enterprise Businesses

21 Jan 2015
Apple Watch

by C.K. Sample III, EVP of Technology & Engineering

Wearables were all the rage at this year’s Consumer Electronic Show (2015), so we expected to see some worthy challengers to the much anticipated Apple Watch and were left wanting.  As expected, Sony, LG, Pebble, and a few others showed their wares but none stood out as a worthy challenger to what may well prove to be another game-changer for Apple.

While Apple isn’t expected to release their new watch this March or April, they have finally released the developer tools and guidelines so developers can now learn, ideate, and innovate how the device and apps designed for it will function in the  enterprise and consumer space. From an enterprise perspective, the expected wide-spread adoption of the Apple Watch practically requires every C-level executive to prepare for the the device’s use by their employees and customers, as well and the application potential and liabilities that go along with it.

We are fortunate enough to have a developer on staff who , prior to working with us, worked on one of Apple’s WatchKit launch titles. So as soon as the developer tools were made ready, he was able to present to our entire team with a little “Inside Baseball of the Apple Watch” at one of our regular lunch and learn developer team sessions. At the time, I tweeted the following:

Needless to say, getting a jumpstart in this space is nice, but only if our clients are as convinced as we are that the time to act is yesterday on this one. Fortunately, we are very convincing, [place cute emoticon here]. As with music and mobile pay platforms, Apple won’t be the first wearable or smartwatch on the market, but it is the first such device that has generated significant positive interest among consumers and the mainstream press and it is considered by many to be the first break-through smartwatch that will get it right. That means that it will not only create demand on its own, but that it will also pull competing products into the limelight.

In thinking about how to respond to Apple Watch, it’s important to consider a meta-approach to smartwatches, wearables, and even portable IoT devices as a whole. The challenge is that these categories of devices are so completely new that understanding their potential as enterprise solutions as well as the risks that they may pose to corporate data is very difficult. Knowing the right questions to consider in advance, however, makes it easier to respond to the release and mass adoption of these devices as more details, capabilities, and challenges come to light.

Of course, for the sake of brevity, I’m only focusing on devices like smartwatches and excluding Google Glass and similar potential products for two reasons:

First, consumers already get and buy watches, so a jump to a smartwatch is a good parallel jump for something they already use that has a palpable value add. We’ve already made the jump from phone to smartphone. People understand that transition and the increased potential possibilities in additive technologies like this at a visceral level. This is where other wearables like Google Glass have failed to capture the public consciousness in a positive way. People are used to looking at their watches for information. Not all people are used to always wearing glasses. And no one is at all used to having those glasses stream extra information in front of them while they’re going about their everyday activities. This naturally pushes Glass into a specialized space and many developers have begun to shift their focus away from consumer-oriented Glass apps, and towards specialized workplace solutions, particularly in healthcare, manufacturing, and field service.

Secondly, Glass has already had its heyday in our discussions. Many of the potential uses and challenges around Glass and similar devices, including specialized app development, have generally been discussed and are more or less understood at this point.

Designing New Security and Appropriate Use Policies

It seems rather self-evident that the first smartwatches in the workplace will be personally owned. Without strong enterprise use-cases, investing in a pricey device like an Apple Watch for employees seems very unlikely in the near term.

These devices, however, can interact with business data and systems, typically by being tethered to a smartphone (Apple has already said that early models of the Apple Watch will be dependent upon an iPhone to fully function, although some smartwatches on the market like the Galaxy Gear S do include their own cellular connection). Apple Watch is expected to include some amount of onboard storage.  Tech blogs rumors indicate a 4GB capacity where applications on an iPhone deliver messaging payloads to the device which are stored locally.

Here are some key enterprise questions to consider for employee wearables:

  • Is it appropriate to allow or support wearable devices connecting to enterprise resources? This is a particularly difficult question in that many of the devices will be tethered to mobile devices that are already allowed access.
  • Should mobile devices tethered to wearables that have the ability to access enterprise content be treated as inherently less secure devices (presuming one can detect the connection to such a wearable)?
  • Do existing policies for mobile devices, BYOD, use of corporate technology and employee conduct provide realistic guidance, processes, disciplinary procedures (if needed), and legal frameworks to address these devices?
  • Are new policies needed for smartwatches and wearables, particularly those that can connect, directly or indirectly, to enterprise systems or data?
  • What communication and employee education about wearables needs to be developed and disseminated across the organization?

These questions require discussions with various non-IT stakeholders such as human resources, risk management, and legal. All potential stakeholders should be brought into the discussion ASAP to more fully inform the discussion as well as to provide the needed buy-in for any changes, new policies, or even new programs surrounding the use of employee-owned wearables.

It’s important in crafting policies and programs around wearables to keep in mind how personal these devices are and that wearables paired with mobile devices will soon be capturing an unprecedented amount of extremely sensitive personal data – including health data. Ensuring user privacy through policy and user education is critical. So is a sincere effort to accommodate these products as opposed to trying to ban them outright (an approach that is likely to fail and alienate employees at the same time).

Finding the Enterprise Use Cases

Although enterprise use of Apple Watch and other smartwatches is unexplored territory at the moment, it is worth considering potential opportunities for innovation and transforming traditional systems and tasks using wearables.

One example is the ability to use wearable devices as replacements for traditional ID badges or key cards used to grant access to buildings, high security offices, or enterprise resources. Apple Watch, for example, will include NFC, and although the primary reason for NFC support is to support mobile payments using Apple Pay, there have been reports that Apple is looking to expand the capabilities of NFC in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus to include building, facility, or mass transit systems access. If Apple does go that route, Apple Watch could then become a convenient ID badge.

NFC isn’t the only game in town, though. This functionality can also be accomplished using Bluetooth LE. A recent study highlighted the ability of Bluetooth-enabled badge to glean unforeseen and unexpected insights in workplace dynamics and productivity. Bluetooth-enabled wearables might offer similar opportunities.

Even before NFC or Bluetooth LE, there are realistic solutions at our fingertips. Having your Apple Watch receive a notification with a scannable barcode whenever your phone indicates that you’re approaching your office is something within the realm of feasibility now.

Another potential use is to treat a paired wearable device as an electronic key, one that alerts a user if he or she strays too far from a smartphone, tablet, or PC. Several Bluetooth dongles that provide similar functionality are already on the market, but a wearable device could function much more effectively. Likewise wearable devices could be used to unlock secured PCs or devices or provide a type of two-factor-authentication. Wouldn’t it be great if your Apple Watch started tapping a distinct alert pattern against your wrist as you started to walk away from your iPhone which you left sitting  on the table in your last meeting?

Then there are already obvious solutions like the ability to receive a notification and to potentially respond to it during a meeting or presentation without needing to pull out one’s smartphone to do so. This list is far from exhaustive and isn’t intended to be. It is simply a place to start thinking about how existing tasks can be performed or improved through the use of wearables.

Preparing for App Development

If there’s one thing that iOS and Android have proven, it’s that we live in an app-centric world where the availability of high quality apps that solve real problems will make or break a platform. That will also be the case with smartwatches and other wearables, with the possible exception of basic fitness trackers. This presents unique opportunities for businesses to produce both customer-facing smartwatch apps as well as internal enterprise apps.

There are, however, definite things to keep in mind when considering designing such apps and Apple Watch’s design process provides an excellent lesson in this. Unlike some smartwatch developers, Apple knew that simply strapping a mini-iPhone to someone’s wrist wasn’t going to deliver a great user experience. The company had to rethink its UI in going from mobile to wearable and successful app developers will need to do the same.

Apple’s user interface guidelines for Apple Watch make it clear that Apple Watch apps are extensions of—and not replacements for—their iPhone counterparts. They also describe a system in which apps are designed for brief interaction, presenting three major app/extension types – fully functional apps, Glances that provide quick notifications but no direct interaction, and Actionable Notifications that allow users to view information and make a simple response based on it.

The design philosophy is similar to that of Pebble apps, which are generally the most limited apps you’ll ever come across. There is no touch screen, no mouse, no pointer – input only comes in the form of a back button, two scroll buttons, and a select button. That forces app developers to pare back to the essentials and nothing more because there really is no other option.

Although Apple provides more interface capabilities, both platforms target apps that are very well suited for quick glances at data and simple interactions, something that developers working with any wearable platform should remember – make apps that do one thing, perform a single discrete task, and make them as simple and quick to use as possible.

Here are some key app questions to consider:

  • Are there tasks or processes that are suited to one or two clicks, taps, or other interactions?
  • Are there enterprise systems or data for which such brief interactions are a natural or logical fit?
  • What is the best way to provision or deploy these apps, being aware mass deployment options may not initially exist?
  • How much interaction from end users is required for considering, developing, and testing wearable apps?
  • Should one or more wearable platform be preferred over others and, if so, which?
  • Is this an app that truly drives employee engagement, use, and productivity or is it simply creating an app for the sake of creating it?

Being Proactive

The enterprise wearable market hasn’t even been truly born yet, but if wearables are successful with consumers, they will quickly generate end-user demand in the enterprise market. The same way you buy a crib and car seat before the baby is born, it’s time to start giving serious thought to the impact that Apple Watch, Android Wear, and other similar wearables could pose on your business and IT team.

Chaos Theory is a Chaotic Moon Studios publication. We are a creative technology studio in Austin, TX obsessed with creating innovative user-centered design and developing intelligent custom software for the world’s biggest and best brands. To engage us about a potential project, send an email to