The Apple Watch, to be available in Apple stores on April 24, offers a number of features that should be of interest to contractors. The obvious focus is as a communications tool. A construction project is all about communications. Project managers need to communicate with superintendents, superintendents with foremen and their crews, and crews with each other. Back in the day, we exclusively relied on two-way radios - walkie talkies - which transitioned to cell phones, particularly the Nextel which had a "push-to-talk" feature that emulated the radios. Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, smart phones have become a viable alternative to two-way radios, particularly for the ability to send email, messages, documents and photos.
The Apple Watch, with its built-in speaker and microphone, enables the smartphone to take one step closer to providing two-way radio functions. The Apple Watch enables the wearer to take and receive cell phone calls, as well as take and receive text or voice messages. The Apple Watch requires a nearby iPhone in order to provide those functions. It can communicate by wi-fi or Bluetooth with the iPhone, so even if the phone is sitting in an office trailer, the Apple Watch wearer can still make and receive calls or messages. The big advantage of the Apple Watch over using just a smartphone to communicate is that the Apple Watch is similar to two-way radio's hands-free ability to receive messages. It may even be better than the two-way radio in the it can send messages hands free as well.
Let's take a look at other possible uses of the Apple Watch for construction personnel. Here's a short list of possible uses; we expect to see app developers come up with many more creative ideas as the Apple Watch and other smart watches gain traction.
- Alerts - provide safety, weather and other job-wide alerts as necessary.
- Email and text messages - allow we are to see what's coming to his/her phone, including reply options, without having to stop what they're doing to pull out the device.
- Time keeping and job costing - clock in/out of employees, as well as designate pre-set cost-code icon library that workers can select to allocate time to various tasks.
- Employee monitoring - this is bound to be controversial, but there are circumstances, both for safety or other reasons, employers may need to know where employees are at all times.
- Health and productivity applications - for the same concept that the watch will lend to those that want to track their performance or be reminded to take breaks, the smart watch can provide feedback to the wearer about physical activity.
- Safety - with GPS, accelerometer and heart rate sensor, the smart watch can constantly monitor a workers' health status. If a worker should fall, pass out or experience an extreme stressful event, the smart watch could notify project staff or even contact 911. It is not unusual for workers to be alone in isolated situations where a co-worker would not be aware of a distressed situation.
- Equipment - in the just evolving "Internet-of-things" world where everything is connected and can be controlled by an app, it is conceivable that apps, and by extension, smart watches, can be used to control devices or utilities on a project - open gates, call elevators, operate jacks and hoists, and turn temporary lighting on and off.
The inaugural version of the Apple Watch is a good start. Apple is known to be working on additional sensors to deploy in future versions, offering even more application prospects.
Tell us if you think smart watches, and the Apple Watch in particular, have a positive place on a construction project or other ways you think they could add value to either project management staff and/or the trades working on a project in the field. We look forward to your feedback.