Tomorrow, Apple will reportedly unveil its wearable device, widely dubbed "iWatch" (though we don't yet know for certain what Apple will actually call the device). I'll be at the event in person along with a number of Forrester analysts. In advance of the event, my colleague James McQuivey and I have released two new reports — one targeted at CMOs and one targeted at I&O professionals — to preview what we think this release will mean. 

We've been thinking about the ramifications for several months, though we held the report until right before the event. I've been writing about wearables for well over a year, and back in February I authored a column for ComputerWorld in which I laid out what we would hope to see in the perfect smartwatch. Some of the elements of a perfect smartwatch I emphasized then were:

  • Partnerships. Smartwatches shouldn't be a gadget; instead, they should create an ecosystem in the real world — think Disney's MagicBand extended outside the park. To do so, a vendor needs to assemble a rich array of partnerships with retailers, healthcare providers, automobile makers, and the managers of a wide array of infrastructure (like point of sale payments devices, tollbooths, financial services compaines, paid garages, and the like) to make the smartwatch useful all over the place. In our reports, James and I develop this point further, describing the ecosystem and partnerships we believe Apple is likely to incorporate into iWatch — if not right away, then over time.
  • Authentication. To enable the most advanced scenarios of real-world navigation — like payments or unlocking the door to your home — some level of authentication would be beneficial. (Of course today's luxury cars offer proximity locks without any authentication other than carrying the device, so there are options). Apple has been a leader in proliferating biometric solutions (via the fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5S), so it seems likely the iWatch will take this idea further.
  • Health monitoring. Of course this feature is really a subset of "partnerships," but it's an important one — there's only so much real estate on one's wrist, and wearing multiple devices isn't likely in the long run (as James has argued). Apple has laid the predicate with Health and HealthKit, released at WWDC earlier this year. James and I talk about how health monitoring is an important element in differentiating the iWatch from the smartphone that's already in your pocket.
  • Fashion. Watches have been around since the 16th century; with nearly half a millenium of socio-cultural history, it will take a lot to reinvent it. Yet Apple has been a trend-setter before with the iPod, the white earbuds, the iPhone, and now Beats. Jony Ive seems confident in the design based on recent rumors, and Apple is the only tech company with a recent history of setting fashion trends (setting aside Sony's Walkman in the 1980s).

As I&O pros watch tomorrow's news, you should have three questions in mind:

  • How can iWatch work as a company-owned device? Should we be buying these devices? For which employees? And to do what with?
  • How will I contend with employee BYO iWatches? The likely inflow of BYO iWatches will require a reassessment of existing MDM providers and policies.
  • How can I work with business partners to design new experiences on customer-owned devices? What infrastructure will power the next-generation interactions your company has — in stores, at point of sale, for mobile marketing — with customers?

I invite you to read and download the full report for more insight into these questions. We'll of course be offering additional updates as the real news gets released tomorrow.

J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. Follow him on Twitter at @jgownder