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How Apple comes to work: Gradually, then suddenly

Matt Rosoff | Sept. 11, 2014
Today's Apple announcements -- two big new iPhones that will ship on September 19, an NFC-based payment system that will launch in October, and the first glimpse of the design and UI for an Apple smart watch that will ship next year -- are all riffs on well-worn ideas.

Apple also announced a bunch of merchants who will be supporting Apple Pay, including big names like Macys, McDonalds, and Walgreens (although the loudest cheers from the crowd of Apple employees and partners at the event were reserved for Whole Foods). 

In other words, if you're a retailer and you've been hesitating about NFC because it's not popular enough, or you don't see the problem it solves, now would be a good time to reconsider. In all probability, Apple will sell hundreds of millions of NFC-enabled phones over the coming decade. Its stated goal is to replace your wallet. Think of all the other devices the iPhone has replaced — from flashlights to calculators to in-car GPS devices — and this sounds more like an inevitability than a threat.

The Apple Watch is the biggest wild card. Unlike most of the smart watches we've seen so far, it's going to be expensive, with a starting price of $349. It's got a much more clever interface than we've seen on any other smart watch — a dial on the side, known as the "digital crown" lets you zoom smoothly into the screen, where you can choose apps arrayed as little round icons.

But most of the demonstrated features seemed to fall squarely in the "oh, that's nice" category rather than the "must have need it right now" category. You can see calendar reminders and email alerts (if your phone's in your pocket). You can send quick hand-scrawled symbols, emoji, and a real-time heartbeat to your friends. You can track your activity and set smart fitness reminders for yourself — one Apple rep likened it to a personal trainer on your wrist, and it sounds a lot like a more sophisticated version of a Fitbit.

There are a lot of questions about just how smart this watch will be. Still, if you've worked in IT in the last decade, you know how this will go. The CEO will show up wearing an Apple Watch. She'll want it to work in some unforeseen way with some homegrown or business app that she uses every day — maybe she'll want alerts when certain sales thresholds are passed, or be able to sign off quickly on certain kinds of documents.

Which means you'll end up supporting it.

Of course, it's possible that the Apple Watch could be a flop like the Newton or a middling product like Apple TV. But Apple's resurgence over the last decade has been all about portable devices — iPod, iPhone, iPad. It does a great job with lifestyle branding. It has hundreds of retail outlets where people can try, and try again, and try a few more times, until the price finally drops enough that they can afford one. (That's how I finally bought an iPhone, and I bet many of you had the same experience.)

So it's probably a good idea to at least start familiarizing yourself with the watch and its app development platform now, before somebody up high tells you do.


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