The announcement in Cupertino of the Apple Watch has consumers, app developers, and even corporate IT help desks wondering if the product will transform markets the way the iPhone did, or whether it’s going to be just another smart watch.
One statement can be made with certainty, however; the debut of the Apple Watch, which is expected to hit the market early in 2015, shows that the smart watch is being taken seriously and app developers will have another important platform for their products.
A year from now, could many of these wrists be sporting Apple Watches?
Why Employers Might Like the Apple Watch
Naturally, people will want to wear their Apple Watches to work, and the watch itself doesn’t appear to pose any obvious security problems. It doesn’t have native 3G, 4G, or Wi-Fi connectivity, but is designed to connect with an iPhone via Bluetooth. Indeed, some employers may welcome the Apple Watch in the workplace due to its capabilities in terms of employee wellness programs.
The Apple Watch can track the number of steps the wearer makes, and the number of stairs climbed. The iPhone 5s and 5c do this too, but the Apple Watch also has a sensor that tracks the heart rate of the wearer. Employers may also like the device’s ability to receive notifications, which can come in handy in reminding employees of meetings. And Apple Pay could allow employers to deliver monetary rewards instantly in the form of vouchers.
The Apple Watch and the Mobile Workforce
The Apple Watch may also provide great benefits for employees who travel frequently. A built-in maps app with step-by-step directions could guide wearers through busy, unfamiliar airports, and since smart watch boarding passes are already available for Pebble and Sony smart watches, it’s not unreasonable to expect them to become available for the Apple Watch as well. Having a boarding pass on a watch means less digging in pockets for paper or smartphone boarding passes.
The mobile employee will be able to use Apple Pay to pay for client dinners, see message updates, and reject or accept calls without having to retrieve a phone. Checking calendar entries or confirming directions are other perks mobile employees are sure to enjoy.
The Apple Watch, MDM, and Network Security
IT help desk personnel in BYOD workplaces may be understandably worried about the impact of the Apple Watch on the workplace. When the device was announced, Apple did not provide information about data storage, security, or details of syncing capabilities between the Apple Watch and the iPhone. If the associated iPhone is out of range of the watch, you wouldn’t think the watch could present sensitive data, but that possibility can’t be ruled out without knowing more about caching, syncing, and data storage. Mobile device management (MDM) already involves careful balance between security and usefulness, and the Apple Watch certainly won’t make that balancing act any easier.
Maintaining security will require addressing concerns about what data Apple Watch apps collect and what the device does with it. Some companies may want to control which sensors are active based on location and / or time of day information, and doing this would involve improving MDM capabilities. Moreover Bluetooth brings its own security risks. Could an attacker take control of an Apple Watch wearer’s iPhone using Bluetooth?
The one thing businesses should not do is pretend the Apple Watch will have no effect in the workplace. Businesses that already have MDM should prepare to incorporate the Apple Watch into their BYOD policies and MDM tools. It’s too early to tell whether the novelty of the Apple Watch will peak quickly and then fade, or whether it will be a real game changer the way the iPad has been. Many organizations refused to accept the impact the iPhone and iPad (and the consumerization of technology in general) had, and ended up scrambling to develop BYOD policies after the fact. They now have the opportunity to be more prepared for the Apple Watch once it goes on sale.