Is the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch suitable for Workforce Management?

Posted by Leadent Solutions on September 24, 2014

On the 9th September 2014, 10am Pacific Daylight Time, Apple underwent a mass unveiling consisting of: the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Watch and IOS 8. Tim Cook’s seemingly never ending vocabulary of superlatives combined with an hypnotic display of seamless graphics beamed onto a 20-meter screen was enough to excite four million customers into pre-ordering the new smartphones on the opening day alone. However, it is not only Apple fanatics who are excited by this new release, as a company who specializes in enterprise mobility, we have found ourselves moderately interested in the tech giant’s new releases and I shall explain why.

The iPhone 6 boasts a 4.7’’ display; this is an upgrade of 0.7’’ from its predecessor, the iPhone 5S, whilst the Plus model has an even larger display measuring 5.5’’. One of the barriers previously restricting the iPhone’s field use has been the size of the screen. However the display up-sizing helps to alleviate this barrier. The new screen is reportedly made from strengthened glass, making them more durable. These upgrades allow the Apple devices to compete against traditional units being used in some workforces, in a way which they couldn’t before.

The camera has been revamped to enable quicker and more accurate focusing as well as improving capturing capabilities in lower light environments. This is an interesting addition from a workforce management perspective; it increases the scope for using a device to report back faults/issues via image to specialists. This could combine nicely with the iPhone’s quicker data transfers via 4G LTE as well as over Wi-Fi – although this is heavily dependent on network availability at the operative’s location. The newly introduced capability of phone calls to be made between Wi-Fi and GSM with seamless switching between the two as needed, could prove to be invaluable, in a given circumstance of low cellular coverage and Wi-Fi availability. Areas known to have poor cellular reception could be augmented with Wi-Fi to allow this feature to work and for more consistent contact between employee and HQ?

A new keyboard interface has been introduced, it is said to be more intelligent in the way it predicts and auto-corrects. This would make communication on the move easier and more importantly, quicker.

It’s noticeably cheaper to upgrade the storage on the iPhone 6 compared with earlier models. This is attractive from a cost point of view, as 16Gb is arguably restrictive for a field device.

The new iPhone models pioneer a barometer feature which tracks elevation. This has the potential to add a new dimension to field operative tracking, as well as health and safety analysis. For example; any sharp drop in altitude could indicate a fall and could be reported automatically.

Finally for hardware, the iPhone 6 features a higher capacity battery as well as a faster, more advanced processor.

What can the Apple Watch do for the mobile workforce?

The fact that Apple was working on a wrist mounted device was one of the worst kept secrets in technology history, however its launch was no less exciting.Apple Watch

One of the most appealing concepts of the Apple Watch is the ‘hands-free’ capability. With notifications being beamed directly to a wrist both visually and physically (the new Apple Watch uses a direct vibration technique known as a ‘tap’ to alert the wearer) checking your messages, e-mails and any other notices, has never been easier – and less distracting.

With the Apple Watch interchangeable strap, it is likely that there will be an array of heavy-duty straps coming to the market, which would be ideal for the field environment. Apple haven’t eradicated all of the features of a traditional watch, a crown remains. The crown can be used to scroll across the device. This can be used to scroll down a notification, to read all of it. This is suitable for field operatives who wear gloves which may not otherwise work on the touch screen.

A built in microphone and speaker allow for true hands free conversation, the benefits of this to a field environment are clear.

The Apple Watch has a heart rate monitor which could add depth to biometric surveillance, ensuring the well being of field operatives. For example, a fall could be registered with the barometer. If there is a subsequent change or lack of heart rate then an automated alert can be forwarded to emergency services, with all the relevant information on the location and operative attached.

The display on the watch can relay, in real time, the camera view of the iPhone which it is paired to. This could mean the iPhone and Watch can be used in tandem to view hard to reach/see areas; ideal for a field environment. For example, an electrical engineer which may be doing some wiring in an area out of the line of sight, could utilize the devices to get the job done.

Apple has definitely opened the door to its products for use out in the field. In the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch is great potential for field use. However it still seems a distance away from being the best solution. The features of the products are coincidentally useful for field utilisation, rather than designed and targeted for use in the field. The Apple Watch is unable to work independently; it needs an iPhone to pair with. At just under £550 for iPhone and an estimated of £250 for the Apple Watch, it is an expensive combination, and one far less resilient and durable than alternatives. I would very much like to see Apple products being used in the field, but they are not suitable for all lines of work. The iPhone and Watch could work well for sales operatives or data collection personnel however unless the devices were encapsulated inside a bulletproof membrane or available at a lower price, using them in rugged environments is not feasible.