Some time ago my Twitter timeline was mostly useless while everyone unpacked their Apple Watch and started playing with it.
I wanted to form my own opinion, so I went out and bought a Pebble Smartwatch (there was no Apple Watch in germany at the time, and the general idea should be the same).
The Pebble has two distinct features that made it a good choice for me:
- A step counter. I’m wearing a Fitbit Charge HR now, and I won’t wear two devices.
- a 7 day battery life. I understand people will re-charge their Apple Watches every day, but for me that defeats the purpose. If I decide to go out in the evening the watch will most likely fail me, or during the day if I forgot to charge it – that’s not acceptable. It also kills the sleep tracker use case.
It’s also significantly cheaper, which didn’t hurt.
The setup experience
Out of the box, it will do nothing. That’s because it’s good practice to sell mobile devices uncharged, so that the new user has enough time to mentally prepare for the life changing user experience while the new thing charges.
Once it’s charged, it will still do nothing. As it’s a Smartwatch, it will require an even smarter phone to give it the kiss of life.
So off we go to the mobile app store of choice and search for the Pebble app. Download, Install, Start.
Oh – we need an account. Let’s create one. Done. Now….?
Live by bluetooth – die by bluetooth
The App now connects to the smartwatch, and immediately looks for new firmware. It then said all was done, while the watch said “waiting for update”.
I ended up doing a hard reboot of the watch (no need to google for the procedure, years of mobile experience let me find out the two buttons to hold on the second try), re-pairing the devices, and finally setup worked.Of course the watch completely ignored basic phone settings like “language” and continued in english.
App installation was a mixed bag, too – the app store is in the Pebble mobile app, and there’s a distinction between watch faces and watch apps, and some of those even require additional apps on the phone, or additional phone configuration to allow the app to talk to other phone apps (contacts or calendar, for example).
After downloading an app it needs to be transferred from the phone to the watch, which by this time decided it had enough and wouldn’t talk to the phone. Another pairing exercise later, and the watch had new functionality. Removing an app from the watch also had to be performed on the phone app and synced, which worked just as well (meaning not at the first try).
Having gone through that the watch worked just fine. New email made my wrist vibrate, and I could read the email on the watch. Of course two seconds later I had to pull out the phone to actually react to the email.
While I was setting up the watch at my desk the step counter had already accumulated 30 steps – so that use case was killed, too.
The next emails did not arrive on the watch. Why? Because I was in the basement, and the watch was in the kitchen.
I understand that the Apple Watch and Google Wear can also do WiFi, but right now most of the watch functionality depends on the close vicinity of a smartphone, as well as the stability of Bluetooth (which is a recipe for failure if my experience is any indication…).
So, to sum up my initial personal experience: a smartwatch is a glorified second screen that saves you from pulling your phone out of your pocket now and then as long as the battery lasts and you have a stable bluetooth connection.
(Please don’t take this as a negative endorsement for Pebble – this is a one-guy-one-afternoon data set, which may have been user error at any point)
Overly negative, you say?
The smartwatch in the enterprise
OK, let’s put on my enterprise hat for a minute. Let’s say smartwatches are a thing, and we want to give them out to all employees. What would that mean?
Do we have the technology?
Though there is no SAP GUI for smartwatches (yet?) SAP certainly has managed to move to a development architecture that is as standards compliant as it gets, so it is no miracle that SAPUI5 will scale to the watch just nicely, as demoed by Martin’s team:
With a plethora of Android and iOS apps in the app store and several mobile development paradigms we should certainly be ready.
Deployment and management
In a time of BYOD the next logical step will be BYOW (bring your own watch). This means smartphone apps need to support watch interfaces. It does NOT mean, however, that ALL apps should have watch interfaces.
Also, deployment and management needs to move away from the smartphone requirement. This adds an additional layer of complexity that is bad for scalability (we’re still living under the assumption that we can “manage” smartphones, which may prove to be wrong).
There’s a simple rule of thumb for any app that wants to make use of the smartwatch: if the next thing I need to do after looking at my wrist is pulling out my phone – don’t bother.
That rule alone would rule out messaging, but there’s another angle to that. Every day I receive about 100 to 200 emails, plus several other alerts. If that made by wrist vibrate every time I would never get any work done.
Here’s a quote from “Peopleware” by Tom De Marco and Tim Lister:
“An interesting discovery was the cost of interruptions, not just to the work at hand, but to the ability of programmers to work at all. They found it takes 15 minutes to enter effectively into a state of flow to write software. At companies where software programmers had to suffer interruptions (coworkers, managers, telephone calls, meetings), productivity was often 10 times lower than the productivity at other companies.”
This means that alerts that go to the watch need to be filtered in an extremely smart manner to allow only really useful ones to get through. It also needs to be adapted to individual work habits – in thinking times or during meetings there should not be interruptions.
You also need a “work/life balance” setting – a watch is a highly personal device which needs to stop showing work stuff after hours.
Current battery technology introduces a dilemma for smartwatches: here’s this cool technology that is supposed to do all kinds of things, yet the more you use it the sooner the battery will run out.
Or, like Douglas Adams put it in the context of traffic jams on a motorway:
“What sort of a transportation system d’you call this? The more popular it is the slower it goes! What genius worked this out?!”
Use cases for the Enterprise
Right now we’re in “look, this app also works on the watch, isn’t that cool?!” mode.
We really need to get to “look, this really works better because we can put it on a watch!”.
What’s so special about a watch?
- It’s a highly personal item. You usually wear it all day long, literally on your skin, and – unlike a smartphone – you’re probably not going to take it off to let someone else use it, and you’re also less likely to leave it in a taxi or at an airport.
- It has a very limited UI. For more than a hundred years we’ve been trained to use it as something we just look at, not something we transact with. Though this may change in the future, it’s a huge UX leap for the present.
Having said that, where do I see use cases where a watch would be preferrable over a mobile phone (which you’re most likely going to be carrying anyway while you’re at work)?
See above – this really needs to be limited to stuff that is important enough to make your wrist vibrate.
- It could be limited by proximity to a PC. While your PC is near, all alerts will be muted, as you’re most likely to see them on the big screen, no need to bother you.
- Give me location specific information when I need it. Example: I’m entering a conference room, give me the room phone number, conference ID and other meeting related information
- Show the lunch menu when I’m close to the canteen
- Alert me to colleagues I know in the vicinity
- Let me know if the next meeting requires me to say some place else, and when I need to leave
A this point – as you can surely deduct from my writing – I do not yet see a _need_ for a smartwatch. I just don’t see the kind of change I would expect to see from a new technology with that much hype.
Now it’s your turn: tell me just what it is I don’t get 😉