With the Apple Watch now on the market and the second-generation developer toolset -- WatchKit for watchOS 2 -- just announced at WWDC, interest in Apple's smart watch has never been greater. Business apps for the Apple Watch are already available from IBM, Salesforce.com, SAP, and others, but the upcoming ability to create native third-party apps that can access more hardware features and execute on the Watch itself can only boost enterprise interest in the platform.If you're looking for a quick and easy way to explore the business possibilities of the Apple Watch today, then WatchBench from Alpha Software, best known for its Alpha Anywhere 'low-code' mobile app development platform, may be well worth exploring.
Students of personal computing history will recognise the name of WatchBench's creator: Alpha Software's CTO Dan Bricklin was behind the world's first spreadsheet, VisiCalc, released back in 1979, and more recently the popular Note Taker HD iPad app.
WatchBench is a development environment that runs on your iPhone (iOS 8.2 or later) and creates prototype apps -- called 'projects' -- rather than fully-fledged Apple Watch apps that you can upload to the app store.
How would businesses use WatchBench?
"The reason to do the prototyping is to learn about usability issues in general. It is the speed of building, testing, and re-building that is important. WatchBench shines in this area. A good user interface or just the right use case makes all the difference in the wearable world. Businesses would use WatchBench to explore the genre," says Bricklin.
WatchBench works by loading a large collection of predefined interface objects onto the Watch. When you launch your WatchBench prototype app on the Watch, the WatchKit Extension hides everything except what's specified in your configuration file.
So how does WatchBench compare with Apple's 'official' iOS/watchOS developer tools?
Turning to the business case for Apple Watch apps, Bricklin sees plenty of opportunities.
"There are many, many cases where there is a simple piece of data that an employee needs at a glance, or to produce with a quick tap," says Bricklin. "This could be current status of some piece of equipment, process, or work flow, or the next item in a pick-list or check list. Carefully crafted displays and controls, quickly accessible on the wrist, are an important addition to the input and output capabilities exploited by the corporation. There's paper and pen, desktop screens with keyboard and mouse, portable screens with keyboard and mouse and/or touch, pocket screens with touch, wall-mounted screens, and now wrist touch/voice screens... One reason for WatchBench is to expand the number of people who can innovate in this area. That's where 'killer apps' will come from."
WatchBench remains very much an exploratory project for now, separate from Alpha Software's flagship Alpha Anywhere product. As Bricklin puts it: "We will see what we learn from our users. We just know that wearables look like they will be a new 'arrow in the quiver' of the enterprise, and WatchBench is letting Alpha, and our customers, become experienced with them and so that we can best take advantage of what they have to offer in the future. We are very early in this space."