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Are enterprise applications viable on Apple Watch?

With enterprise application delivery today, it’s go small or go home.

As more employees want to access corporate data on their personal devices, companies are looking to provide critical business applications on those devices. But delivering a traditional desktop application to a mobile device is no easy feat. Smartphones and tablets are inherently smaller than PC screens, and network connectivity can be questionable when streaming an intensive app to those endpoints – not to mention the frustration of pinching and swiping and hitting tiny dropdowns that were never meant to be used on a handheld.

Application refactoring technology helps overcome some of those challenges by offering a way to transform desktop applications into mobile-friendly versions. But mobile doesn’t just mean smartphones and tablets anymore. An interesting demo at this week’s Citrix Synergy conference in Orlando got me thinking: What about delivering these apps to a smartwatch?

A smartwatch’s screen is even smaller than that of a smartphone or tablet, and it’s still unclear what the enterprise use cases might be for wearable technology. But the recently released Apple Watch has taken the IT world by storm, and if enterprises someday do want to deploy and manage these devices for employees, it’s likely that they’ll want the Watch to support a range of enterprise-grade applications.

Because of the small surface area of wearables, a key challenge is determining exactly what content to deliver in a given application.

“With a wearable, it’s really important that all the information you get – because it’s such a small amount of information – be the right specific information, at the right time,” said Jonathan Kaplan, CTO of application transformation vendor PowWow Mobile. “We want to deliver the right information so you’re getting the best use of the small screen.”

PowWow Mobile announced this week that its Transformation Engine would now extend to Apple Watch apps. In fact, the company says there are no limits to the enterprise applications it can transform into fully functional mobile apps for use on the Apple Watch. With the PowWow Challenge, organizations can enter their most complex applications and the vendor will return a mobilized app in 10 days or less.

Developing the technology for use on Apple Watch apps was more of a business challenge than a technical one, said CEO Andrew Cohen.

“What’s the right business case for people to use wearable devices?” he said. “People want to use the Watch when they don’t want to have to pull out their phones.”

That use case applies most often for employees out in the field who need instant, hands-free data – a trader who needs continuously updated stock information at a glance, for example, Cohen said.

The benefit of app refactoring technology like PowWow’s is that users can pick and choose elements of the application they want to present, but that becomes more difficult with Apple Watch apps, said Eric Klein, director of mobile software at VDC Research.

“For a complex enterprise application, it’s hard because it’s not really possible to pick and choose the parts of the application that are important, by design,” he said. “That’s the challenge.”

Instead, Klein sees an opportunity for more basic, lightweight apps that are workflow-oriented to be used on wearable devices.

Ultimately, the goal is to make application access easy for both IT and the end users.

“Users don’t want to open multiple things; they don’t want to think about anything,” Cohen said.

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iWatch seems to be an excellent alert system (beyond it's obvious comfort zone for the hypochondriacs among us) with functionality somewhat limited by the size of human fingers. The fact that it's been able to acomplish anything interesting at all at its scale is testament to Apple's technical chops.

As it is TODAY, only a few useful tools can work with the iWatch. Most fall into the category of handy rather than the essential though a few add a few extra productive seconds to the day. But it's worth remember that many Apple products were merely interesting curiosities on their Delivery Day.

Few imagined - even among techies - that the first iPhone would become a business essential within a few years. Some wise folks developed apps. Given it's history, it's a safe bet to assume more apps than we can imagine will find a place on upcoming versions. I'd vote with the developers again.

I love this statement:

“Users don’t want to open multiple things; they don’t want to think about anything,” Cohen said.

I think it would be just as accurate to say:

"Users don’t want to think about anything"

Is that too naughty? Of course, some of my customers do think but sometimes you wonder...

Just because you can technically do something does not make it useful. The example is interesting, but who would want to deal with a watch interface? The phone interface would be limiting enough to deal with.

Besides that, you need the phone to provide the watch interface--so you already have the phone available to you. The watch is not a stand-alone client as the phone is. The battery on the watch, under constant use, would probably last only a few hours.
@ncberns Great points. Functionality is limited by the size, but you're right that people said the same thing about the iPhone, and look how that ended up. 

@zman5819 That's definitely true and it's a real limitation that the Watch has to be paired with the phone - I'm hoping that's something that will change in the future, somehow... Have you seen anything about how long the battery would last, depending on how it's being used? Interesting point.