Apple Watch Next big thing or Tim Cook’s folly?

April 24, 2015

As Tenet Partner’s IT director, and as someone who has been involved with Apple in many capacities over the past 30 years, I can’t help but be amused by all the negative and often snarky predictions for the new Apple Watch.

As with any new Apple product, until it has been in the market for a year or more, no one can predict what role it will play in users day-to-day lives. However, the key to grasping its potential lies in the understanding that while Apple creates brilliantly engineered and beautifully designed devices, it’s the imagination and talent of third party developers that really make these devices “The next big thing”.

When the iPhone first shipped in 2007, we tech types were thrilled to have a phone with a real web browser, visual voice mail, standards based email, an iPod, and a handful of useful productivity apps. Moreover, all this goodness came wrapped in a sleek package with an brilliant touch based OS and a gorgeous display. As a groundbreaking phone, this was obviously going to be a very successful product, but the real revolution wouldn’t begin until Apple opened up the iPhone to third party developers.

When the app store eventually opened, I would check in every few days to see what new apps were available. Within a few weeks the trickle of apps became a stream, which in turn became a firehose. Who in those early days could have imagined today’s ecosystem of apps and accessories, and the sheer scope of the functionality now offered by this diminutive device. While ostensibly a “phone” it is more accurately understood as a connected and sensor-rich pocket computer, and a darn powerful one at that.

One example; my nephew, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, is on call a few nights a month for cardiac emergencies potentially requiring emergency stents. When he gets a call he can quickly log-in with his iPhone and review the patient’s EKG, transmitted live from the ambulance, as both he and the patient make their way to the hospital. By the time he arrives he knows exactly what he’s dealing with and is ready to scrub in. This one tool significantly reduces the time from heart attack to repair, a critical factor in preserving life and preventing damage. Again, who could have imagined?

When the iPad was announced many confidently stated it was a device too far, just an overgrown iPod, and sure to be a flop. While tablet sales in general have slumped of late, they have carved out a vital role in our connected world. In a few short years iPads have replaced the 30 pound chart cases carried by nearly all airline pilots. They can also be found showing Frozen in the back of the family mini-van, used for data collection at scientific field stations and are replacing hard bound (and often out of date) books in classrooms around the world. Outfitted with a host of accessories and specialized software they can also be found on stage, in hospitals, offices, laboratories, museums, factories, etc., replacing existing tools, or creating new ones that none of us could have conceived of a few short years ago.

As a guy who grew up with Dick Tracy and his wrist phone, I’m naturally predisposed towards the Apple Watch. Most of my technical colleagues at Tenet Partners are as well, but what about the mass market? Could the naysayers predictions of an impending flop be accurate? I can’t begin to guess how the Apple Watch will evolve, but as with previous offerings, Apple has delivered to us an innovative and beautiful, yet relatively blank slate. Once smart developers around the world (and right here at Tenet Partners) dive in and make it their own, I’m pretty sure this could indeed be “the next big thing”.

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