The questions every CIO should ask about Apple Watch

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Apple recently released the developer tools and guidelines for Apple Watch, giving users and developers a preview of how the device and apps designed for it will function.

Apple Watch 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 means that it will not only create demand on its own, but that it will also pull competing products into the limelight – several stores are running Black Friday promotions for smartwatches reflecting that halo effect. In thinking about how to respond to Apple Watch, you’re really thinking about how to approach 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.

Note: I’m focusing here on devices like smartwatches here and excluding Google Glass and similar potential products for two reasons. One is that there is much more consumer interest for smartwatches. Glass has failed to capture the public consciousness in a positive way and many developers have begun to shift their focus away from consumer-oriented Glass apps, though many are still pursuing specialized workplace solutions, particularly in healthcare, manufacturing, and field service. The other is that 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 Apple Watch for employees seems like very unlikely in the near term.

These devices, however, can interact with business data and systems, typically by being tethered to smartphone (though some smartwatches on the market like the Galaxy Gear S do include their own cellular connection). Some have built-in cameras and can geocode photos taken with them. Apple Watch is expected to include some amount of onboard storage (rumors and reports indicate a 4GB capacity). Here are some key policy questions to consider.

  • 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 data, 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 organisation?

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 replacement 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.

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.

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 thing.

Apple’s user interface guidelines for Apple Watch make it clear that Apple Watch apps are extensions and not replacements of 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 that 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 apps 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 one(s)?
  • 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. Much as 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.

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