Written by Ross Mason
Change is coming
The introduction of Apple Watch could be a defining moment when wearable technology crosses from a novelty to mass consumption. If this happens, we can expect some profound changes in consumer behavior. The consumer is always ahead of the enterprise when it comes to the tools they like to use for productivity, so for the Apple Watch to truly affect the enterprise, it first needs to be adopted by a wide range of users that bring it into the workplace, just as we saw with smartphones. For instance, the Apple Watch presents an opportunity for smarter workflows, where responses are quick for tasks such as approval requests and management sign-offs. Having the ability to make a decision quickly on a smartwatch versus reading emails can have powerful impacts on productivity. The Apple Watch will drive a new way of thinking about automating common workflows to make them ridiculously simple.
The healthcare industry is a key market for the Apple Watch, as is the payments industry. Smartphones and tablets serve as points of friction, as we are constantly required to fish for our devices in our pockets and handbags as we embark on a frantic chase to locate the source of the beeps and vibrations. The Apple Watch provides a more accessible second screen to make new innovations like cardless payments less of a hassle. I’ll bet Starbucks will be extending their loyalty app to the watch to make it even easier to get that much needed coffee. Or, the airline industry to make boarding passes available on your wrist for a smoother travel experience. I believe Apple Watch will also find success in the workplace simplifying workflows. Think about remote workers that don’t want to truck around multiple devices and need to move tasks along quickly and efficiently in between meetings.
The Apple Watch can also be useful in industries that empower employees with iPads as laptop replacements. In comparison to the Apple Watch, the iPad is clunky and doesn’t fit nicely in your pocket. However, if you have your iPad close by, the Apple Watch can serve as the easily accessible second screen you work on. Jobs that specifically require employees to have two-hand access, such as mechanics or technicians, can find smartwatches to be great assets. For instance, a mechanic fixing a malfunctioning train on a railway track bound by a service-level agreement can use the Apple Watch to quickly send updates to train conductors on the estimated fix time.
The smartwatch won’t transform any one industry but will rather see its users take advantage of “moments”. Smart devices in the workplace often increase productivity by providing rich applications to help us with our daily tasks. We’ll see SaaS vendors jump on this opportunity with the Apple Watch to build workflows into notifications without going to the apps themselves. For instance, if submitting an expense report for your manager’s approval, your manager might receive an alert on her smartwatch with an easy “Approve” or “Disapprove” functionality, speeding a mundane, yet relevant, task along with the tap of a finger (and hopefully avoiding more emails). Or, your manager could be in the middle of an important meeting and decide to postpone answering the request with a quick glance of the wrist and without having to open an application.
Simplified and efficient design
The small screen size will serve as a wonderful creative agent as app designers think more deeply about how to walk the tightrope between function and friction to delight users. The Apple Watch is going to force developers to become creative. With simplicity top of mind, we’ll see developers come up with new ways to create a better user experience and more streamlined workflows within the applications and between other devices. For example, developers will design smart notifications where users can respond faster than they ever have before, with a simple tap or gesture.
However, the paradox of smart devices in the work place is they very often increase productivity by providing rich applications to help us with our tasks while simultaneously serving as a distractor. With each beep or vibration, we’re inclined to check our phones to see what new email, text message or alert we’ve received. The act of reaching for a phone is a point of friction as we dig it out of our pockets and handbags. The Apple Watch could serve as a mechanism to stop this behavior as we’ll merely glance at our wrists and quickly determine if the new information requires our immediate attention. For instance a quick glance will be enough to decide whether to take a work call or respond to a cute cat meme.
Context is becoming important in order to not bother people with updates or notifications that are currently not relevant. This means the device must understand more about where a person is and what they care about. Google Now has been working on this problem for a while, and I fully expect Apple and their developer ecosystem to be building context awareness into their Apple Watch apps and for iOS to provide more context aware capabilities for developers to work with.
Context awareness is ever more important in the workplace as our smartphones flood us with emails, chats, messages and notifications, many of which can wait or are unwanted. While the smartwatch marks a new era for app workflows, the apps will need to get smarter to help people be more productive by delivering actionable information at the right time on the right screen.