Watch this space

Will smartwatches ever become as ubiquitous as the smartphone for business owners? The app developers are doing their best to make it happen. Bill Bennett checks out some of the offerings.

You probably don’t own a smartwatch yet. Most people don’t. Sales have been slow to take off, and the smartwatches that have sold so far went to consumers, not business buyers. 
Interest is often sluggish when technology moves into an untapped area. Although the first smartphones appeared in 2003, it wasn’t until Apple launched the iPhone in 2007 that everyone sat up and took notice.  
Now almost every person in the western world owns a smartphone. 
That may not happen with smartwatches, but you can rest assured the device makers aren’t planning to give up pushing wrist computers any time soon. They have too much money at stake. 
Last year smartwatch makers sold 17 million devices. While that’s a big jump on the four million they sold in 2014, it’s a long way behind the optimistic forecasts made when smartwatches first went on sale.

"One reason smartwatches have failed to meet sales expectations is that most people don’t know what they can do with them. Or at least, what they can do that isn’t already done better by other electronic gadgets."

One reason smartwatches have failed to meet sales expectations is that most people don’t know what they can do with them. Or at least, what they can do that isn’t already done better by other electronic gadgets. Business owners only invest in technology that can earn its keep. 

Smartwatches tell the time like regular watches and buzz your wrist to let you know about incoming phone calls, text messages or email. That’s handy, but hardly worth the $500 plus asking price. 

More useful, a smartwatch will help you stay healthy. Almost all come with first class built-in fitness apps that encourage you to take more exercise, remind you to walk or nag you to get out of your chair more often. A healthy person may be a productive person, but the IRD might take some convincing if you argue the personal health line when claiming a tax deduction for a smartwatch. 

A handful of business software developers were early to the smartwatch party. They had apps ready to roll soon after the first Android and Apple Watches appeared. Many took a more measured approach, waiting for a demand to emerge before investing their time and resources. 

Today, most of the more ambitious software companies are tailoring apps specifically for watch users. Few watch apps offer full functionality. A watch with a screen only a few dozen millimetres wide doesn’t offer much room to display information, and entering data is tough – but it works fine for notifications and quickly grabbed data snatches. That’s where most business app developers are today; their watch apps supplement, not replace, their everyday apps. 

Apps that mean business
Here are some of the most interesting business oriented apps we’ve seen to date:
•    Xero has a free Apple Watch app that buzzes your wrist and shows you the details of fresh transactions as they appear in your account. You can reconcile statements and invoice while on the move. It also handles expense claims. You’ll need to be a Xero customer for it to be useful. It’s helpful to know when a client pays their bills, if say, you’re on the way to see them. 
•    As the name implies, Invoice2Go means you can invoice for work while still on the customer’s premises. This can be useful for tradespeople wanting to be paid on the spot. As with Xero you’ll need to be a paying user of the Invoice2Go service for this to be worthwhile. The company has free apps for both Apple and Android watches.
•    Australian ServiceM8 is a service designed for small business operators to track staff. If you run, say, a trades service business then you can use it to despatch workers to jobs, allocate work and to stay in touch with employees, contractors and customers without needing to make constant phone calls. It also handles invoicing and payment tracking. ServiceM8 integrates with accounting software such as Xero and MYOB. The Watch app is only available for Apple. 
•    The main banks all have apps for both Apple Watch and Android. In most cases you can check balances, transfer money between accounts and make payments. 
•    Microsoft has OneNote and OneDrive apps for both Apple and Android watches. OneNote is a note-keeping app that works on just about everything. The watch version allows you to dictate memos and other messages from your wrist. The OneDrive watch app keeps you up-to-date on changes made to any of your documents stored in Microsoft’s cloud service. 
There’s a Microsoft translator, so you can speak into your watch and get translations in one of 50 languages. Microsoft also has an Apple Watch version of Wunderlist. This looks after your to-do list; you can add new items by speaking them into the watch. 
•    OneNote's biggest competitor is Evernote. Like OneNote, Evernote is for keeping tabs on odds and ends of information. You can set up reminders using the desktop version of the application and have your Apple Watch ping your wrist at the right moment. Likewise, you can use the Apple Watch to dictate short memos and have them stored as text in your Evernote database. 

Evernote can keep checklists; you’re able to tick items off from your wrist while on the move. There’s also a search function so you can speak a query and the software will attempt to find the relevant information in your Evernote database. How well this works in practice is open to question. During testing I found the search was hit and miss while the dictation was acceptable, but far from perfect. 

•    Salesforce is a cloud-based customer relationship management service. It was once restricted to large companies, but is now used by smaller firms to keep tabs on customer’s needs and wants. The company’s Apple Watch app is aimed mainly at mobile sales staff; they can use it to pull information from company databases. It might be helpful to get a reminder of, say, the name of your customer’s kids immediately before a business meeting. Staff can also get access to analytic information and an indication of a customer’s previous transactions. 

While Salesforce can serve up vast amounts of analytical data, the Watch app is designed to keep this under control and deliver just the necessary basics. 

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