The Blog

  • March 10, 2015
  • Apple iWatch: What’s the Killer App?

    watch-dmApple 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.

    Published: 9 years ago

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