Do you have your Apple Watch yet? Are you caressing its digital crown as we speak and tilting to dismiss the incessant stream of notifications? Or did you look at the price tag, which ranges from $349 to a reported $115,000, and think you’ll wait for the next generation to shell out for the high-tech plaything? Either way, if you’re looking at it as simply a consumer luxury item, you might be looking at it all wrong. Much like the iPhone ushered in a huge change in corporate offices across the land by launching the bring your own device revolution, the Apple Watch stands to make wearables a new feature in the corporate landscape.
As such it could serve as the proverbial tipping point for driving a new layer of services inside offices that will save energy, allow them to save money on real estate, collaborate more effectively and give corporations more granular information than ever before about their employees. This latter feature means that we will need input from both regulators and our HR departments about data retention and privacy policies that could end up rivaling the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in terms of complexity and bureaucracy when it comes to attempting to protect consumers’ rights.
Let’s start with what the Apple Watch could do. The watch requires the wearer to have an iPhone, but has both a Bluetooth and a Wi-Fi radio, which is an important element. This means that the watch will work with the phone via Bluetooth radios, which are the same ones that tie your phone to your headset or a nearby speaker, but could also link to various Wi-Fi networks in a corporate or home environment one day. With the Bluetooth functionality, a company might use Bluetooth beacons to track where employees are in the office. Beacon devices transmit a bluetooth radio signal that communicates with your phone. They can be used to show you who’s in a conference room but also something as interesting as track which employees are at their desk.
An immediate use case is just being able to check to see where someone you want to talk to might be in an office building, but over time you can analyze patterns among employees and see who works well together and figure out where your team’s natural leaders are and how people work. In less corporate environments, you could use the movements of your employees to help design better business processes or even better building space. For example, Celebration Health, a hospital in Florida, has used a real-time nurse tracking system based on a wearable ID tag to schedule nurses and build a new wing of the hospital using data on how nurses actually move about serving their patients throughout the day.
In an example specific to the Apple Watch, I recently spoke with the chief technology officer of Gazelle, a company that resells used electronics. He wants to buy Apple Watches for employees in the company’s processing plant to deliver haptic feedback about big events related to meeting business metrics, such as the imminent arrival of the UPS or FedEx truck. Delivering specific information via vibration from the watch helps keep employees focused on the task at hand while still communicating something really important. Other industries could replicate the use of such ambient information delivery for select pieces of information in their fields.
Beyond that, the Apple Watch opens up opportunities for better device authentication, taking it beyond mere two-factor authentication to something called adaptive authentication, where you could use the most applicable of a variety of available devices to get access to your accounts. Through its ability to track heart rate and other health information and send it into HealthKit, it can provide a trove of personal health data that might help enhance employee wellness programs. (Remember when Yahoo bought employees the Jawbone Up bands?)
Thus, while the Apple Watch is certainly a high-priced consumer device, it’s not going to stay that way for long. Its influence will almost certainly be felt first in C-suites as IT departments have to support them, but soon across organizations as executives and startups realize the power that these devices have to help unlock the power of better security, productivity and improves costs across their organizations. And, it’s going to happen fast. Remember, the iPhone only came out eight years ago, and already businesses can’t live without them.