Apple changes everything, again

Apple’s long-awaited and widely leaked announcements for Apple Watch — which everyone thought would be the iWatch — and new larger Apple iPhones — the 4.7 inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5 inch iPhone 6 plus — represent a turning point, when Tim Cook’s Apple has finally moved out from under the enormous shadow of Steve Jobs. Jobs hated the idea of big phones, so the 6 and 6 Plus are a big departure away from his aesthetic, and the Watch is obviously Cook & Ive through and through.

I’ve written about the impact of wearables in business (see The future of work: 4 trends for 2014Wearables, earables, eyeables: Welcome to the next wave of computing) but Apple’s iWatch is going to take the company’s traditional path to category — defining ubiquity, starting with massive consumer uptake. Unlike the obvious business use cases of Google Glass, for example — like medical, security, military, engineering, and manaufacturing applications — Apple is starting with sensors that touch the wearer’s arm monitoring physical stats — heart rate, etc — as part of a focus on well-being. It’s an intentional emphasis on the personal (see Can we consumerize everything inside businesses?), rather than any business application. And we are going to have to wait until 2015 to see it, anyway.

There a great deal of apparently ingenious design in the Watch. The user experience is unique, geared around the watch form factor. The home screen is a palette of circular icons representing apps that you move with a finger. The touch interface differentiates between tap and press. Tap might open an app or start a song playing, while a press (longer than a tap) may bring up a menu, or some other non-tap action.

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The ‘crown’ on the Watch is a fob set on the right hand side of the bezel, but this one works like the old iPod clickwheel. You can tap it to go home, and twist it to zoom in and out of content, or to move through menu items. Lastly, there is a ‘social button’ below the crown which is dedicated to pulling up a list of contacts to call them, message them, or send them a ‘taptic’ message that they can feel if they are also wearing a Watch.

Apple also has devised a new system called Glances for the Watch experience, to get information from your iPhone to your Watch. Swiping the Watch face moves through cards of information from selected apps, like the new notifications widgets in iOS 8.

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Presumably, other iPhone app makers will be sending notifications to the Watch through this Glances interface, and that may be the first and most important connection from the Watch to work technologies. For example, a task management tool could display today’s to-dos on a card, or the number of updates in a work chat could be shown. It’s conceivable that work tech Watch apps could be created, but they’d have to be based on voice input since typing is not an option.

The new NFC-based Pay system that Apple laid out last week for the new iPhones has larger business implications, but is still largely a consumer play. Who doesn’t want to stop carrying around a stack of credit cards? It’s been reported elsewhere that Apple’s timing for Pay is great, since retailers are confronted with a looming deadline for upgrading their point-of-sale systems to deal with EMV (Europay, MasterCard, and Visa), the international standard for credit cards which relies on an embedded chip in the card. It provides a much higher level of security, and requires new hardware and software. Apple’s throw weight in the market presumably will tip the balance, and retailers will opt for systems that support both EMV and Apple Pay.

I’ve pre-ordered a iPhone 6 Plus, and sometime in October AT&T should be sending it along to me, so any serious discussion of its impacts on my way of life and work will have to wait. But this week we will see the release of iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite. I’ve been using Yosemite in Beta for a month or so, but I didn’t want to go through the headaches of joining the developer program to download the beta of iOS 8 for my iPhone 4S. So I have not had the opportunity to experiment with new features. I am particularly interested in new services like Continuity, and the revamped iCloud (see iCloud Drive is the Dropbox killer of Jobs’ dreams).

Note that my 4S is now obsolete and no longer available from Apple. Luckily, it turns out to be the oldest iPhone that will be capable of running iOS 8, or I wouldn’t be seeing any of the new generation of Apple’s mobile platform until October.

Nothing that Apple showed last week has led me to change my opinion about the enormous impact that iOS 8 and Yosemite will have. Leaving aside Pay and Watch, the reconstruction of the Apple OS’s to allow a more open interconnection between third party apps — like sharing data — and just as importantly the redesign of iCloud to come up to the now-standard distributed virtual file system (a la Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive) repositions the company as having the best solution for building apps for business. As I wrote in the second quarter analysis and outlook, focusing on the new notifications capabilities,

One of the biggest shifts — and one that will prove especially relevant for work technologies — is the new role of notifications. We already realize that there is a tremendous gain in productivity with notifications since we don’t have to fire up an app to see some critical reminder or a message. But in this generation we will be able to respond to notifications without starting an app. For example, responding to a chat message directly from the lock screen on an iPhone. This is more than a slight convenience since it allows us to remain in the work context and get back to what we are doing without a hiccup.

The notifications center is going to become the center of our iOS world. This is augmented by the new notification widgets: small pieces of app code that run in the notification center. These can be of any sort, like news or weather apps, but the biggest bang in the work tech sector will be connection: remaining in touch with our work teams, getting updates on work activities, and so on.

My recent research note on contextual conversation makes the case that we are in the middle of a major transition in work tech. We are seeing a shift away from now-traditional “collaboration” tools that are geared for company-wide styles of work and broadcast communication towards small-group conversations based on the chat metaphor. I don’t want to reproduce that argument here in depth but I maintain that Apple’s fusion of platform, devices, and services will underlie and accelerate that transition, and in particular, Apple’s iMessage, Facetime, and other messaging tools may be defining the next generation of conversational connection.

It’s September, and Apple is rolling out the new software platform that is likely to redefine what computing is for the next five years, and three new bits of hardware: two mobile and one wearable. Brace yourself.