Apple finally launched its watch this week and a land rush of potential ecosystem partners has amplified the original announcement. Salesforce announced three major components of its initial product line including Salesforce Analytics Cloud for Apple Watch, Salesforce1 for Apple Watch, and Salesforce Wear Developer Pack for Apple Watch, all of which are bigger than the device (kidding). All good, but now comes the hard part—what’s the killer app for this sucker?
We haven’t talked about killer apps for a long time because recent introductions going back to the iPod, were self-explanatory or mono-functional or nearly so. The iPhone scarcely upset that equilibrium because it was a phone (duh!) that operated like a Swiss Army Knife and happened to have an ecosystem of stuff you could take or leave and thus customize to your personal preferences. And the tablet, iPad, was scarcely different—a wall with a pre-fab coating of spaghetti already attached.
Now, with the watch, size is the primary differentiator since the watch works best when it is synched up with your phone to bounce things on to and off of the small device’s limited electro-real estate. It is therefore time to discuss killer apps since a device this limited cannot be all things to all people.
The killer app has a long and distinguished history going back to the earliest days of computing. Mainframes were the province of the CFO who kept the books and printed reports and bills. Gradually, department solutions like HR, manufacturing, and lots of other stuff oversubscribed the expensive mainframe and demand for mini-computers was born.
We don’t talk much about mini’s these days preferring to ignore them and go straight to networks. But networks would not have become the vogue if Ethernet, TCP/IP, 4 GLs, and other cool things hadn’t been invented there. Minis were department solutions pure and simple. You could hook up manufacturing machines to them and optimize your process by collecting and analyzing process data, an approach called kaizen by the Japanese who perfected modern manufacturing with good old American know-how from people like W. Edwards Deming that was ignored at home.
PCs and their networks were made viable by office work especially spreadsheets and word processing which at the time were considered hogs that can bring larger machines to their knees. Laptops enabled road warrior sales people (I was one) to carry presentations into meetings and manage databases of prospects while on the road, a great leap forward.
So that’s a brief and probably unnecessary look at killer apps. We’ve been through the intelligent devices of this century already but the question still lingers—what’s the killer app for wearables?
May I suggest that there is none and that the appearance of the watch, while emblematic of a new category of wearables is also setting the definition of a new category of apps and of information—the personal. Think about it. The progression to this point has moved us from unambiguously corporate data (i.e. the GL) to the unabashedly social running on the handheld with naked selfies and “Look what I ate” indicators of an asymptotic march to diminishing returns.
This is not to suggest though that the watch and its ilk are without merit, just the opposite. But the watch also signals the advent of the intensely personal. Fitbit gave us a taste of personal data collection for personal use. Sure we can socialize our personal data—“Look at my blood pressure!” But who cares?
The value of what’s personal and the scale of the watch provide some clues about what will be important apps on this device and the best analogy I can come up with is biological. The watch is a silicon and metal receptor that attaches to your surface the same way an insulin receptor exists on a cell’s surface. Cells have all kinds of receptors and hormones like insulin act by attaching themselves, which in turn sends a signal through the cell membrane causing action within the cell.
Hormones typically don’t cross the membrane because they’re kind of big. They are also very efficient messengers, insulin doesn’t offer a verbose instruction set of to do’s like let in glucose and store it as fat or burn it, etc. etc. This messenger simply says glucose is on the way, you know what to do.
In the same way a powerful app for the watch will be in providing all kinds of alerts to its owners who will know what to do—not just simple messages like, “You have a meeting in 5 minutes or 2 hours.” In the IoT, alerts might come from other devices such as those also owned by the owner of the watch and might take the form of “I need toner” or “I’m off line” or some such message. An alert might also come from a pre-formed search that could include a constant federated search and data analysis to inform the wearer of a change in the environment that the wearer and only a few others might care about, such as a buy or sell signal for a complex derivative. Take note of Salesforce’s Analytics Cloud for Apple Watch, for instance.
So in some ways the watch and wearables bring us full circle from corporate to personal data and back again. In this construction wearables are likely to be the first of ever-smaller devices that might someday occupy places in organs or the blood stream to correct tissue deficiencies or repair disease.
It’s hard to speculate how this will roll out but I think the next advance could have a name that’s bigger than the device and consequently Apple will jettison everything from its little “i” naming convention save for the dot.
Wearable computing hove into view in a big way yesterday when Salesforce.com announced Salesforce Wear, a capability that enables developers to build new apps for teeny tiny screens and devices that you, well, wear. Wearables is a market poised for takeoff. Last year, for instance, Apple cornered the world markets capturing all the copyrights to “iWatch,” which I think was not a coincident. And let’s not forget the things that are not worn but which simply exist through sensors on the Internet of Things (IoT).
But what does wearables as a class of devices mean? It’s time we began asking hard questions because if Say’s Law (supply creates demand) ever had any applicability it will show itself in this still emerging market and we really want to get demand right. There either are, or there will shortly be, wearables for your wrist, your neck, and pocket. Each does something different and each will need software so the question about the killer app, not seen for real since early laptop days, seems to be relevant again.
More importantly, though, you can’t answer that question until you also ask and answer questions about what we’ll be doing with wearables. The long evolution of technology beginning with the mainframe is a story of ever more personal and relevant information. Mainframes automated back office functions, PC’s, laptops, and networks automated rank and file workers and ignited a productivity explosion. Handhelds made us social and computing personal in ways that had never been done.
Wearables is a different kettle of fish. You’ll notice right off that at least this generation of wearables is not intended to do every compute function. Wearables seem to be context specific so a device might monitor your vital signs, but not your golf swing and vice versa. Or something like Google Glass will deliver needed content to your cornea but it won’t help you get into a secure zone.
So very quickly you can see that wearable computing as a class has a great deal more complexity to it than any of the preceding generations of computing. That makes developing for individual platforms challenging and building development tools that can address all of the form factors and their uses, even more so.
Heck, just imagining the potential uses for wearables is a challenge so I was glad to see that Salesforce didn’t just say, come and get it with some half baked developer tool designed to enable you to recreate your GL on your wrist because that would be a complete non-starter.
Instead, Salesforce did some smart things. First, they made available some reference applications based on their developer pack. The apps showcase a number of innovative business use cases that won’t exactly be second nature to you unless you are an oil rig worker needing to fix some complex bit of technology (yes, there’s a reference app for that). Second, they made these reference apps available as code for anyone to see, evaluate and modify in an open source way. This will help speed the adoption of Salesforce Wear and identify missing components and new opportunities.
Finally, Salesforce is not limiting their deployment to a small number of devices, they’re casting a broad net in an attempt to support the fledgling market. Imagine if Microsoft had done the same thing with Office when the iPad was first announced.
There are other things in the announcement that I think are not only cool but needed to make the product take off — like security in the form of 2-way identity flow to keep you from having to constantly re-log-in — what a hassle that would be on a small device. Also it goes without saying that these things all need to connect with one or more mother ships across the wireless web before the internet providers try to chop up this last bit of the public commons.
So that’s that. Now, what does this mean? Are wearables just another kind of hardware that we can use for checking email? I definitely hope not. Wearables represent a new approach to being in the world and as such their applications and the business processes that they support have not been fully figured out yet — and we’ll be saying that five years hence too.
Wearable computing is a new, new thing, a paradigm being born and because it is, its success will be as dependent on a killer app or three, as the laptop depended on Harvard Graphics and later on PowerPoint. Understanding this drives the next question. What kind of world will we inhabit that drives the development of these apps?
Without getting all Kurzweillian on you the permutations can be very interesting. Wearables can deliver content, take your vital signs, prove your identity, and follow your motion just for starters. The implications for me are that wearables will support more independent yet thoroughly connected life styles. If handhelds enable us to be connected from anywhere to anywhere at any time, then I think wearables will enable us to optimize that existence with presence.
So, application development for wearables is a big deal if you ever expect to do more with that fancy watch than tell time and check basic Office functions. But it also marks another turning point in which technology will become a part of your extended life.
Sometime in the not too distant future we will all wonder aloud not only at how we ever got along without wearables, we will also wonder why it took so long for us to fully realize the vision of the 1960’s era Star Trek show.