Will the Apple Watch Give Rise to Bring Your Own Wearable (BYOW)?

Apple watchThe expectations for the official launch of the Apple Watch on March 9 are running high. Just like quarterly earnings estimates we now have a Wall Street consensus about how many Apple will sell this year: 14 million.

Most of the speculation is about how much the different versions of the watch will cost or what consumer applications it will or will not have. But what if the Apple Watch will shine mostly in enterprise applications? What if by the end of this year we will be talking about Bring Your Own Wearable (BYOW) as the new headache for the CIO?

Speaking to employees at a Berlin Apple store last week, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook “hinted that Apple is working on getting the Apple Watch into the enterprise,” according to 9to5Mac. Cook mentioned salesforce.com, but there’s also the partnership with IBM and potentially other enterprise IT vendors, and a few of the more than a hundred developers Apple has been working with to port their apps to the Apple Watch.

Yes, I know, IDC has predicted that “within five years, 40% of wearables will have evolved into a viable consumer mass market alternative to smartphones.” But what is the value proposition of the “alternative” to the computer in our pocket? That we won’t have to lose a few precious seconds taking it out of our pocket?

This is what we hear again and again as the explanation for why you would prefer to have your favorite app on the watch and not on the phone. It didn’t make sense to me when I read about it in Thad Starner’s (the godfather of wearables) 2013 account of developing Google Glass, quoting Larry Page: “Our goal is to reduce the time between intention and action.” And it doesn’t make sense to me today when I read about Tim Cook (In the 9to5Mac article) talking about using the Apple Watch to unlock hotel room doors. Reducing the time between intention and action maybe incredibly important when you search online, but does it really bother millions of people who are now used to the few seconds time-lag required for taking their smartphones from their pockets or wherever they put them?

It is in the enterprise, however, that the Apple Watch may find its true value. We can use the short history of the smartphone as a leading indicator for this possible trajectory for the new category of devices: smart watches.

When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in January 2007, he told the Macworld audience that “every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.” Today, we know that this typical high-tech hyperbole for once came true. But it not only changed the definition of a “personal computer” or what is “a phone,” it also changed the enterprise in ways unforeseen. Microsoft’s CEO at the time, Steve Ballmer, told CNBC: “It doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard.”

The communication device with a keyboard that appealed to business customers—and their IT departments—at the time was the Blackberry. We forget now how addictive and popular it was, but the “Blackberry Prayer” happened spontaneously anywhere a few business people gathered. It was soon replaced by the iPhone and other smartphones because employees revolted against corporate policies, using this new pocket computer in both their work and personal lives.

The convergence of work productivity and personal pursuits, brought about by the World Wide Web (“The Internet”), with the smartphone as its platform, defined a new era for corporate IT, one encapsulated by the acronym BYOD—Bring Your Own Device. At first, CIOs fought it tooth and nail. But they soon understood that if you can’t beat them, you better join them (and Blackberry was toast).

Are we going to see the same development with the smart watch, combining personal applications with enterprise-specific productivity enhancing apps, ones that it make sense to put on your wrist rather than in your pocket? Consider the following:

  1. Deloitte predicts that in 2015, 60% of all wireless IoT devices (a category much larger than smart watches) will be bought, paid for, and used by enterprises and industries. And over 90% of the services revenue generated will come from enterprises, not consumers. Will the smart watch ride on this possible wave of enterprise IoT applications?
  2. Enterprises have already been experimenting with other types of wearables. While Google may have changed its expectations and plans for Google Glass, it has expended its Google for Work program, according to Wired.
  3. Tim Bajarin on Google Glass: “Like most technology of the past, it will be the business and vertical market sectors that will be early adopters and flesh out usage models at first.” Is this also applicable to the Apple Watch?

After experimenting with wearables since 1993, Thad Starner says today: “My dissertation advisor once told me, ‘know when to re-invent something.’ He meant that a particular technology or technique needs the right environment to thrive, and the moment if they are successful, when everything is aligned for a technology to have impact, is often not when it is first invented.”

The Apple Watch will not be the first wrist-top computer. Is this the right moment for it to succeed, but not as a consumer-only, “fashion-first” wearable, as many expect, but as a specialized device, combining consumer with enterprise applications? Are we going to replace the Blackberry Prayer with the Apple Salute?

[Originally published on Forbes.com]