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What's in it for the enterprise at 2018 Apple event? Apple Watch, AR

The 2018 Apple event may not have wowed on the smartphone front, but the new Watch Series 4, with a built-in ECG, could be a hit in the C-suite and a life saver for remote workers.

Early September has become synonymous with the unveiling of new Apple devices.

Past Apple events have oozed with intrigue and sparkled with innovation. This year's event, while impressive in parts, seemed to land with a shrug -- more on that later.

On the docket at the 2018 Apple event: three new iPhone models, a new medical-grade Apple Watch and improvements to Apple's ARKit 2 to allow for more immersive augmented reality experiences, among other things.

The biggest news at the 2018 Apple event for enterprise's revolved around the Watch Series 4, not the new iPhones, said Tuong Nguyen, principal research analyst at Gartner. New built-in electrocardiogram, or ECG, and heart rhythm features are compelling, but what's even more interesting to him is the device has Food and Drug Administration approval -- something Nguyen said he sees as a true differentiator and selling point.

"Approval potentially clears the way for a number of things, including more users [being] amenable to adopting the Watch because of the implied effectiveness that comes with the approval; it potentially opens the door for insurance providers to evaluate the device for coverage purposes; and it could spur competition to get approval, as well," he said.

That's all good news for the smartwatch industry, which has struggled in the past. But what's it mean for the enterprise?

So far, adoption of smartwatches and other health wearables hasn't been huge, Nguyen said. But this renewed interest may force enterprises to take a closer look at how to manage such devices and the data on it. 

"This may involve changes in staffing, skill sets and infrastructure," he said. "If insurance providers get involved, it might also be another way to incentivize employees to 'get moving,' as Apple puts it, which will make the impact on IT more urgent, as well."

Annette Zimmermann, research vice president at Gartner, said she also sees the new Watch's emergency call function -- which detects a fall and automatically calls emergency services after one minute of immobility -- as a great feature for enterprises with remote workers.

"I've talked to a lot of IT leaders over the past 12 months that want to track lone workers and look for technology with what they call a 'man down incident' response. The Apple Watch Series 4 can help with this use case," Zimmermann said.

Where's the spark?

Industry analysts, by and large, dismissed the 2018 Apple event as big on aggrandizement and short on surprises. The touted improvements were judged more additive than earthshaking.

Smartphones -- including Apple's -- have gotten so good that it's difficult for most people to tell the difference or care.
Tuong Nguyenprincipal research analyst at Gartner

"For me, it looked like [Apple unveiled] incremental, bigger and more expensive devices," said Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond, who added that nothing shown at the event stood out to him as particularly impactful.

Gartner's Nguyen said he was also underwhelmed by this year's Apple event, which some have even begun calling "one of the most disappointing iPhone launches in recent memory."

"I don't think there was much to share in terms of what is that much better on the S models," he said. "Smartphones -- including Apple's -- have gotten so good that it's difficult for most people to tell the difference or care; so, often times, buying new phones comes down to prestige. As in, I have to tell you it's the latest [iteration of a device], because you may not notice otherwise."

Part of the issue is our rising expectations, said R Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research. We often expect grand, innovative strides forward, but mobile technology has advanced so much that perhaps all we should really expect from here on out are incremental improvements. Even if more newsworthy technology advancements do exist out there in the ether, cost is often a limiting factor in what can go into a wide-release device.

"For example, while the technology for a clear-glass iPhone is there, it's way too expensive," Wang said.  "Having a camera on the Apple Watch would be awesome, but that's still not cost-effective."

Time will tell how much longer this near-term, incremental strategy help Apple differentiate itself from its competitors.

More on what was unveiled at the 2018 Apple event

The three new iPhone models -- the XS (that's 10 S), the XS Max and the XR -- range in price from $750 for the "budget" XR to $1,099 for the XS Max with a 6.5-inch screen. The XS and XS Max phones come with touted camera improvements, Apple's latest powerhouse mobile chip, the upcoming iOS 12, support for dual SIMs, better battery life and better water resistance.

The Watch Series 4 comes with a larger display, a built-in electrocardiogram that can detect potentially deadly heart issues, fall detection, an emergency call feature and approval from the FDA.

Also announced were several improvements to Apple's ARKit 2, including improved face tracking, realistic rendering, support for 3D object detection and a bigger focus on gaming.

Don't forget about AR

The part of this 2018 Apple event that stood out the most to Alan Lepofsky, principal analyst at Constellation Research, was Apple's continued focus and innovation around augmented reality. While images of headsets for virtual reality are perhaps more common due to their proliferation in science fiction, Lepofsky said AR offers far more practical impact, with a fraction of the barriers to entry.

"With iPhones and ARKit, it is simple for people to enhance what they see on screen with augmented data and insights," Lepofsky said. "While most of the applications available today are for use in our personal lives, I expect to see an explosion of business-related applications coming soon."

Hammond agreed there were some interesting AR demos that have potential, but he said AR on a phone or tablet is always going to hit a certain level of immersiveness and struggle to move beyond it. "So, I fear we may be in this cycle of incremental releases until we get truly decent hands-free devices as our next big leap," Hammond said.

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