Apple calls the Apple Watch “the most personal computing device yet.” By this the company means that — for the first time — the computer is attached to our bodies. We can feel it.
Enterprise app developers account for much of the recent app development action for the recently-launched Watch. So it’s a good time to take a hard look at what Watch apps will mean in the workplace, not just for personal use.
If you think the smartphone is good at calling your mind back to work during off hours (or during work hours), wait until your employer gets its mind around the Watch. For some people, their smartphone already feels like a “leash,” and with the Watch that leash might suddenly be attached to your wrist.
A work alert was one of my first experiences on the Watch. During the setup process the Watch app asks you if you’d like to make all your iPhone apps also present themselves on the Watch. I said Yes to this question, forgetting that one of the apps on my phone is my work team’s group chat app (I didn’t even know the app had a Watch extension). Everything that my team does and most of what it thinks is captured in this app. Whenever something in my purview needs a look or needs doing, I’m alerted.
So I was a little surprised when I saw one of these alerts on my new Watch. After being pulled away from what I was doing by a physical tap at the wrist I heard myself say a quiet “Uh oh.”
At my job nobody has ever told me that I have to have our group chat app installed on my phone (not just on my computer), but I do. It’s an unspoken rule. Will employers see the Watch the same way?
Enterprises should be careful with this. We already have too many distractions at work — too many things that jerk my mind out of the “the zone” at the worst times. The Watch could make that “jerk” a physical sensation on my wrist.
There’s also alert fatigue. If I start feeling the jerk of the leash during my off hours, I may get that horrible feeling that I’m never not on call. I may start to cringe when the little “Taptic” feedback engine inside the Watch taps my wrist.
Wearables that make sense for work
Hopefully enterprises, and the app developers who love them, will focus on the more productive uses of the Watch in the workplace, not just on ever-more annoying ways to keep employees on call.
As Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin points out, there are plenty of jobs where employees need to keep both hands free while working, so getting quick bits of vital information on the wrist could be very effective indeed. This could mean systems status updates, or vital decision support factoids.
Then there’s Siri. What will a wrist-based personal assistant mean in the workplace? “I think we are seeing the early stages of true assistant based platforms,” Bajarin said in a recent podcast. “A deeper level is when the device starts to anticipate things, like calling Uber when I’m running late.”
And, as I’ve written in this blog many times, the near field communication (NFC) chip inside the Watch could enable all kinds of authentication applications in the work place. Employees (from nurses to service workers to IT people) could use the Watch to gain access to physical spaces or virtual ones, like information assets.
The Watch is just the start. We’ll be seeing more facial and clothing-based wearables in the workplace in the near future. Even implants and nervous system integration are within the realm of possibility.
It’s time to start getting thoughtful about how personal wearable tech devices should be used in the enterprise. Here’s a start: They should be used for vital communications and collaboration, not for constant surveillance and control.