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Take advantage of the first wave of Apple Watch apps

Consumers may soon be bringing Apple Watches into the enterprise, and IT should seize the opportunity to boost productivity. Learn more about the first Apple Watch applications.

The Apple Watch is a complementary device that will at least initially serve as an extension of the iPhone, but it could still represent a step forward in enterprise mobility.

IT and developers are hard at work to identify, create or modify applications that can take advantage of this new channel for corporate communication. Apple has optimized native iOS apps, such as Mail and Messages, to make them less obtrusive in business settings, while Apple Watch should also enhance third-party apps that focus on real-time interactions and quick access to important data.

Every enterprise is interested in maximizing productivity, and if IT is ready to take advantage, the Apple Watch will provide opportunities to streamline employee workflows.

Native Apple Watch applications

Let's start by taking a look at the built-in apps, which may also be the most useful at the outset.

The Apple Watch includes 20 native applications, mostly comprised of previously existing iOS apps. The newcomers are the Activity, Workout and Camera Remote apps, with the latter allowing Apple Watch to serve as a viewfinder for the camera on your iPhone. A handful of these are useful for enterprise purposes.

The Messages app will have the most immediate relevance, using what Apple refers to as the Taptic Engine, which provides haptic feedback. The Taptic Engine gives you a gentle tap on the wrist to let you know that you have a message. By raising your arm, you can read and respond to the message. Lowering your arm disregards that message. You can also use the Digital Crown navigation feature -- a modern twist on the traditional mechanical watch crown used to set the time and date on older timepieces -- to scroll through auto-generated responses or dictate a response.

The Apple Watch will only continue to gain enterprise functionality.

The Messages app will become the easiest way to look at messages at work. Rather than interrupting a conversation or meeting, you can simply glance at your watch to see if there are any pertinent messages. Similarly, if your hands are occupied -- for example, using a mouse and keyboard -- a quick look at your wrist is a smaller disruption than having to reach for your phone.

The other work-essential native app is Mail. If organizations have an enterprise mobility management (EMM) tool such as MobileIron that works with the Mail app, employees' work messages will flow straight to their smartwatch. EMM providers that use secure containers -- such as Good Technology and Citrix -- will need to develop an app to make that happen, but it's only a matter of time until those apps arrive.

The other built-ins are interesting to consumers but may not benefit the enterprise. Still, it depends on the industry. The HealthKit software developer's kit has some untapped potential in tracking health statistics for patients in a medical setting, or to track employee health in occupations reliant on physical condition.

Third-party enterprise apps

As for third-party Apple Watch applications, there are already a few entrants into the marketplace. So far, these apps are mostly designed to extend the functionality of iPhone mobile apps to the wrist.

Salesforce, for instance, has designed its Salesforce1 for Apple Watch app to provide real-time alerts on business decisions or announcements. Salesforce's Analytics Cloud for Apple Watch app enables salespeople to access sales analytics data in a more timely manner.

All the major social networking platforms are accessible on Apple Watch. Employees can quickly check their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other accounts, although it's unknown whether this will increase or reduce time spent on social media.

Other popular iOS applications are transitioning toward watch functionality as well. For example, Starwood Hotels and Resorts' Apple Watch app allows you to make reservations, check in, open hotel rooms and more, all from your wrist -- which would be especially useful for traveling employees. Similarly, American Airlines has an app to streamline the flight process from check-in to baggage claim.

For your business note-taking needs, the Apple Watch version of the Evernote app will let end users dictate notes, set reminders, cross off checklist items and perform searches. Evernote wrote on its blog that "An app on a watch doesn't replace an app on the phone, it complements it." That is the mindset most other third-party vendors will likely adopt as they look to get into the Apple Watch game.

As its first apps become available, the Apple Watch App Store should remain busy. Apple recently released the WatchKit application development platform, allowing developers to modify existing iOS apps or create Apple Watch-specific apps that integrate the new Glances feature.

And as IT deploys the first iteration of apps, it will be exciting to see the use cases, productivity gains and security flaws that crop up. The Apple Watch could improve several traditional enterprise functions, such as badge entry onto the premises, viewing Active Directory or other directories, editing payroll and time-off functions, and viewing project management lists and tasks.

The Apple Watch will only continue to gain enterprise functionality, but it's already worth consideration for organizations intent to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of productivity.

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