What is the most compelling thing about the Apple watch? Does it herald a new form of technology that will continue to change the way we do things, like the mobile phone? Or is it a fad like the yo-yo? Is it just a toy, or valuable tool?
Can you use it in the enterprise?
In my first week, the most compelling thing about the Watch is what I’m going to term “non-disruptive ambient context.”
Many people have asked: “Don’t all of the notifications and buzzes bother you?” and my response has to be “No.” Or at least “hardly, and much less than the phone.” It is true that it takes about 48 hours to get your notification settings right on the watch. To determine the signal to noise ratio that’s good for you. E.g. Email notifications are off, and in fact I haven’t once used the watch to look at email. SMS notifications are definitely on, and I’ve hardly responded to an SMS (or iMessage) on the phone in the week. Twitter is off, Instagram on. IFTTT on. FitBit on. Tripit off. And so on. Facebook doesn’t yet have an app, and it will certainly stay off!
Notifications are a gentle tap on the wrist that doesn’t detract from whatever you, or others, are doing. Phones, however, are forever buzzing, chirping, and ringing. And taking a phone off the table, or worse, out of a pocket is pretty distracting. Glancing at your watch not so much.
Next time you’re in a meeting take stock of how many people are looking at their phone, and how often. Take stock of yourself too.
Another thing is that it’s easier to ignore a notification. To stay 100% present. At least I find it easier. There’s something about it being on the wrist that triggers a “that must be a response from x” type thought, which leads to “I’ll check and respond after this meeting.” Partly this is because the vibrations on the wrist are generally invisible to others. Partly it’s because different notifications have different types of vibrations, that you attune to very quickly. So it becomes like an unconscious sense.
This unconscious sense is hard to explain, but consider speaking to someone at a party. You’re generally unaware of all of the other sounds you can hear because your attention is on the conversation. Suddenly you hear someone in another conversation with an accent from back home. This doesn’t disrupt your conversation, but you make a mental note to go and have a chat once you’re done. The notifications on the watch become like that. An augmentation of your senses about context.
Early in the week I was asked: “”So will it change the world?” (Thanks Julian) Which of course is half genuine, like the questions I ask above; and mostly tongue-in-cheek.
So what behaviours change?
The primary one, in a word, is “voice.” I interact a lot more with my voice. The first area you notice this is with responding to messages. At least half of them you simply respond with the template responses. And it is so quick! Compared to typing on the phone. Insanely quick.
The other half you respond via dictation. And Siri is really, really good. Unlike the bloody auto-correct when typing on the iPhone which is continually frustrating, where I feel like I edit almost 100% of responses. On the watch this is reversed. Every word is spelled correctly. Simply no typos. In a week I can count on one hand the number of messages Siri has misrecognised. And I’ve only had to resort to the phone twice due to misrecognition.
I am astounded at how good the watch is. I’ve dictated messages on trade show floors, at conferences, on a busy street, whilst out-of-puff exercising, boarding an aeroplane.
There’s another thing about responding with voice. Tone. I often find I’m talking to the recipient, rather than typing. As if I were conversing with them. This emotional tone actually changes the language reflected in the message.
The effect is from a work perspective, a remarkable reduction of latency. You’re simply connected quicker, and in a richer manner than messaging with the phone.
As you become used to using voice for interaction, it quickly grows to other aspects of the watch. Setting an alarm, taking notes, researching a query, navigating somewhere, creating a task. I found Siri on the iPhone okay, but cumbersome. On the watch this comes into its own. A tiny example of this is that I now use Apple maps for simple short trips rather than Google maps. It’s so much easier to say “Hey Siri, navigate me to…” than to get the phone out, unlock it, fire up Google maps, type in the search etc. Of course I could have used Siri on the phone, but I’ve had mixed results, and because I have a big screen with keyboard, I tend to use it.
In the office once you combine the access of Apple’s Siri with the insight of IBM’s Watson, this will be a disruptive competitive advantage. One that competitors like Google, Microsoft, and of course HP, need to consider seriously.
So Voice, What Else?
Well, because of the health goals I stand up for calls a lot more now. Which, although hardly an enterprise application, has to be a good thing for all those sedentary employees.
More seriously there are a number of applications that give me contextual information. And by context I mean time and location dependent. Apart from PIM applications, these are mostly consumer apps still: Timetables, currency rates, weather, traffic etc. But the opportunity here for enterprise applications is massive. Why can’t I capture my timesheet and expenses as I incur them? What about getting up-to-date customer and deal information tied to where I am? How hard would it be to give me pricing and inventory information?
One of my contentions about the popularity of the Watch is the sub-vocal communications. Being able to connect to others in rich ways through taps and pictures. Right now, I have one friend with an Apple Watch. So I feel a bit like the first owner of a fax machine. All this cool technology, but I’m hardly going to send my heartbeat to Pieter. (Sorry mate)
Actually I think this has got real potential in a business setting too. Everything from taps to indicate telemetry (think of a call centre manager getting a sense of calls in queue) to multimodal communications (think of supporting someone in a negotiation, or feedback during a training session)
Not by a long shot. Very, very good for sure. I’d argue the best smart watch on the market today. Certainly better than the Android Wear devices I’ve seen. Although to be fair I haven’t lived with one for a week. And I’m yet to review the Pebble Time, which should be imminent.
But despite changing a bunch of my behaviours, streamlining much of my day, and augmenting my context in sometimes intangible, yet significant ways, I do have a couple of bones to pick with the Watch.
Apps mirror the iPhone & stream information via Bluetooth. This means they can be laggy to start up. Essentially you start the app on the watch, which then communicates to the phone, starts the corresponding app on the phone. This then reaches out to the Internet to get the latest information. Then finally streams that back to the watch. Mostly this is a slight imposition, but occasionally it seems easier to just use the phone. Irritatingly this is inconsistent. Some apps have clearly had more thought about start up, caching information, remembering state, and minimising information than others. Usually this is worst when you’re demonstrating your shiny new watch to a skeptic.
Another challenge is the “desktop” interface. The apps are quite small, which without the benefit of titles mean it’s easy to open the wrong app. You can zoom in with the digital crown, but you have to centre the icon first.
As initially with the iPad, developers are as yet inconsistent with gesture usage. So in some apps you Force Touch to add information, in others you do this to edit information. Small niggle perhaps, but as the number of applications on the watch increase, just remembering gestures becomes harder.
The watch charger, whilst very cool, doesn’t lay flat on the table. I’m simply going to have to buy or make a charging stand. Sigh.
None of these issues are show stoppers. In fact I suspect that now developers have actual watches, and get used to developing for the platform, much of these issues will be resolved. Also, as Moore’s Law drives the hardware, we’ll soon have a watch that doesn’t need tethering to a phone.
There are some functions I haven’t tested yet, e.g. syncing playlists for listening to music without the phone. Mostly this is because when I’m out I listen to podcasts (commuting) and Audible books (exercising) and when I do listen to music, I stream via Spotify. Given none of those apps are available on the watch, it seems I’ll be taking my phone with me for the foreseeable future.
There are plenty of applications I haven’t had a chance to use yet: Evernote, TripView, Qantas, Skype, Domain and on. Some of this is because I simply haven’t got my head shifted to these as watch apps yet. My context for Evernote is in writing, or research, or meeting notes, so I usually use it on the iPad, and only occasionally on the phone (mostly in looking up information). My current approach to the watch is for applications that give me dynamic contextual information.
I also haven’t used the camera remote function yet, but am looking forward to using that at the Grand Canyon on the week-end.
One app you must get though is the IFTTT “Do” Button. This allows you to “Do” a task that triggers an IFTTT rule. E.g. I have a “Do” button that triggers a rule to turn my bedside lamp on or off. But anything you can program with IFTTT you can create a button for. That’s pretty cool.
Battery and Durability?
I’m sure by now you’ve noticed I haven’t led this review with the commentary that everyone else comments on. Battery life, waterproofness, size and fit, durability etc. And that’s for good reason. A short search will highlight dozens of YouTube reviews on how durable the watch is, how long the battery lasts, and that you can indeed shower whilst wearing the watch. (and as it turns out successfully dictate a message). So there’s no need to repeat that here.
Suffice to say the battery totally blew away my expectations. I’ll easily get well over 24 hours wearing the watch, perhaps even 36. In fact I’ve taken to wearing it at night, and just doff it for a charge once a day.
Whilst this is certainly for early adopters (whom own an iPhone) right now, I can’t help but feel that Apple again have set the benchmark for what a smart watch should be. A short week, and already I wouldn’t leave home without my Watch. And the opportunity for intelligent watch apps in the enterprise is a very real opportunity for developers, and competitive threat for other vendors.
If you use your iPhone a lot during the day, you will get a massive benefit with the Apple Watch. Even if you don’t use a lot of apps, but just use your phone for calls, messages, calendar, tasks etc. It’s also good for those that don’t use their phones a lot, but are into health tracking. Whilst not as functional as some of the watches out there (essentially lacking GPS) The Watch is far less chunky, and with the magic of software will outstrip dedicated watches very soon.
Already sales of the Watch are outstripping those of the iPhone 6. And as the platform gets better with more apps, expect that to continue.
If you are involved in mobile architecture for your organisation, I’d recommend:
- Build the smart watch into your strategy – get one for yourself. (Note: I recommend buying it with your own money. This is the only way you’ll be compelled to actually use it to its full functionality)
- Build BYOD into your strategy. More than smart phones people will bring in their own watches, they simply won’t wear one that the company has bought for them. Even if they did, they wouldn’t use it.
- Start thinking now about what information people need to do their job, and how you can replace desktop applications with contextual information to enable people. If you don’t you can bet your bottom dollar, others will.