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Let's innovate: Uncovering hidden powers of the smartwatch

Scouring the Internet reveals a number of heated debates about devices like the Pebble smartwatch. Is it useful? Useless? Will wearables become the way of the future – or an embarassing fad of the past?

The doubt, however, has not kept famed innovators like Dan Bricklin from working to unveil the hidden power of wearables. His company, Alpha Software, announced the release of their Alpha WatchBench app last June – an app that empowers developers to quickly and easily build working prototype apps for Apple smartwatches using just an Apple iPhone and knowledge of the JavaScript language.

“Alpha WatchBench allows all developers – not just iOS developers – to experiment with how Apple Watch can fit into their business processes and determine its best use cases for improved productivity,” said Bricklin. “This is a powerful tool that will give companies a head start on exploiting opportunities opened by Apple Watch.”

While this is not the only development tool of its type (see: Apple’s Watchkit), Bricklin believes that features such as unique accelerator keys, a more polished, ioS8-ish look, the ability to build tools in JavaScript and the extensive amount of documentation included with the platform give his platform an edge over the others. But most importantly, as Bricklin points out, the fact that the offering is free helps developers try their hand at creating apps for wearable devices without spending a lot of money. On top of that, it allows developers to pilot their applications in real-world scenarios and see results immediately.

But why wearables? Are devices like smartwatches something that will lend itself to more efficient business? The sentiment is certainly there, it seems.

“Apple Watch creates an entirely new paradigm and category of hands-free, ‘glance-able’ apps that will create huge opportunities for enterprises to increase efficiencies,” said Ben Bajarin, Principal Industry Analyst, Creative Strategies, Inc.

“As organizations look to quickly roll out Apple Watch apps to their employees, developers will seek fast solutions for prototyping this new breed of app.”

Bricklin says he believes in this new paradigm and that these devices reek of “useful for business,” empowering organizations across a wide range of industries the chance to ramp up productivity.

“People are so enamored by the fact that it’s stylish that they forget it’s useful,” he says. Bricklin believes that in industries where the flow of information is increasingly critical, the ability to access information on something you wear has the potential to help businesses save a significant amount on their operational costs.

“Every extra minute a plane is on the ground costs money,” he says, citing an aviation-based example. The point is that any amount of time that can be saved – even if it’s just the time it takes an employee to reach into their pocket and pull out their smartphone – can have a significant impact financially.

So how has the use of WatchBench played out in the real world? A few places, actually – including the NHL. Developer David Kates was able to use WatchBench to create a simple app – NHL Stats – which connects to an Amazon S3 table containing JSON about the Stanley Cup Finals, delivering real-time scores and other game information to fans on their wearable devices. And while this might seem like a big undertaking, it took Kates less than two hours to construct his application – with absolutely no prior experience building a smartwatch app.

And as far as Bricklin is concerned, he is happy just to have the platform available to developers. In a field that he feels suffers from consumer-level fickleness, he hopes this platform will can help spurn a new wave of usefulness in the arena of wearable technology,

“People are so enamored by the fact that it’s stylish that they forget it’s useful,” he says, insisting that the value is there, no matter how vertical the application may be. And he is happy to have provided a tool developers prototype the new generation of device useful-ness.

“Prototyping is something I’ve done all my life,” says Bricklin. “Whatever developers do with it is gravy.”

Perhaps Bricklin has saved us from the fiery, seemingly never-ending debate over the significance – or lack thereof – of wearables.