Building Products & Saying NO

 

Learn to say NO to the good and the advantageous, in order to receive the best!

― Sunday Adelaja

SayNo

If your Product Management team is responsible for building products, features/ideas get thrown at you – by your product team members, sales/marketing/support groups, competitive analysts, customers, partners, executives, etc. On one hand, you have the responsibility to ship a well-rounded and a well-balanced product that serves the needs of your customers. On the other hand, you have the wish list fire-hose pointed at you.

Arguably the toughest decision a Product Management team makes is – what features to include and what features to exclude. What do you build now and what do you postpone? If the goal is to offer a well-rounded product experience to your customers, I would argue that what you say NO to is more important than what you say YES to.

Rather than making ad-hoc YES/NO or NOW/LATER decisions, here is an objective framework that mitigates the subjectivity in this decision-making process using 5 vectors of evaluation:

 

1. Utility Value & Breadth of Impact: This one is fairly straightforward. For the feature in question, ask yourself (from a customer perspective) 2 questions – (1) how useful is this feature (2) what % of my user-base will find this genuinely useful. Where possible use data to support your decisions – e.g. you could analyze your Google Analytics stats to understand how often a similar feature is being used in your existing product. These questions will help you weed out “pet projects” or cool sounding features that have little or no utility in real world.

 

2. Table Stakes: In late 90’s, much before Bluetooth and USB became popular, some computers offered IR (infrared) ports so that devices like PDAs could wirelessly connect to computers. In reality, these IR ports were rarely ever used. However, because an IR port was a common requirement in the corporate purchase checklist, most laptop manufacturers would include the IR port in their corporate class laptops even though they were rarely ever used – i.e. the IR port became table-stakes in the corporate laptop market.

Another contemporary example is the phablet product.When Samsung launched their Note phablet in 2011, it became a runaway success. Apple on the other hand, stayed away from phablets given Steve Jobs’ disdain for the large devices. Samsung Note was capturing so much market share (especially in Asia), after 3 years of resisting, Apple capitulated and launched their iPhone 6 Plus phablet in 2014 – they needed a phablet in the product lineup to stay competitive.

In your market, is the feature under consideration table-stakes based on customer requirements or competitive positioning? If so, you may no choice but to offer that feature sooner or later.

 

3. Basic VS Advanced: A few months ago I upgraded my audio receiver to a Sony DN1050 – I needed a receiver with AirPlay support. The DN1050 is a pretty sophisticated receiver that supports AirPlay, NFC, multiple zones, 4K scaling, Bluetooth, Wifi, DLNA, Pandora, Spotify, etc. BUT… it only supports 2.4Ghz wifi – no cigar with 5Ghz wifi support. Arrrgh. Why would a world class company like Sony build a sophisticated $600 consumer electronics product that relies on wifi and yet exclude 5Ghz support. My $50 Echo Dot supports 5Ghz!

This is a classic example of a somewhat disjointed product that supports sophisticated features and yet misses the basics (5Ghz wifi channel support) – that’s a head scratcher.

When building products, it’s important to cover the basics before you start considering advanced/complex features. This is a fairly simple principle and yet it eludes so many products!

 

4. ROI (effort vs benefit): Every so often you come across a feature that sounds useful – but expensive to build (in terms of time & resources). If that feature is applicable broadly, benefits a wide swath of your user-base, or gives your product a strategic edge, it may warrant making that investment. Otherwise punt it for later!

 

5. Strategic Importance: When Apple launched Siri in 2011, it was labeled as a beta. As far as I know that was the first time Apple released a feature labeled as beta (while embedded within a mainstream product) to general public. Apple knew that Siri was not fully ready for prime-time and yet they released it early on because of its strategic importance. By releasing it early and collecting anonymized voice samples, Apple was able to iterate and improve Siri over time. Now Siri is an integral part of their iOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS.

 

Summary: For every feature/capability on the product roadmap, it’s important for Product Management teams to consciously deliberate on the YES/NO decision based on objective criteria that suit your needs (market requirements, competitive situation, strategic importance, product maturity stage, etc.). Without this deliberation, if every idea gets a YES rubber-stamp, products runs the risk of becoming a disjointed mishmash that could earn your customers wrath!

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Power Users maketh Good Product Managers

Power User

Every so often I meet an intern, an engineer, a marketing guy or somebody that asks “How do I become a PM (product manager)? What makes a good PM that builds great products?”

Usually my return question is “For which products do you consider yourself a power user?” I get this quizzical look – what’s being a power user got anything to do with being a product manager?

Turns out, a lot!

If you are in the tech industry, depending on your role, you use products like Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Jira, Adobe Illustrator, iOS/Android/Windows/Mac etc. for a few hours everyday. If you spend a few hours everyday on these products, did you take the time to get a deeper understanding of how these products work & use them better? Some examples:

 

Microsoft Windows:

With a 90% market share, chances are that you have used Microsoft Windows for dog years.

  • Ever use the Windows registry to customize the OS or any application to suit your needs when such a customization is not available via the usual “Options” route? See some examples here…
  • Ever used Windows “Event Viewer” to diagnose any problems?
  • Ever customized Windows “Power Options” to suit your own needs?

 

Outlook:

  • If you send regular emails to a set of people, did you ever create a “Contact Group” – a personal distribution list (not the corporate distribution list) of those people and use that for your emails?
  • Ever install and configure an Outlook plugin other than what’s already installed by default on your computer?
  • Ever setup your work email and personal email in the same Outlook instance so you can conveniently switch between work and personal email?

 

 

WhatsApp:

  • Did you ever go into “Settings > Data & Storage Usage > Storage Usage” and see which groups are consuming too much storage? Deleted videos that take too much storage?
  • Ever posted messages with bold/italics formatting? Here is how you do it…
  • Ever used WhatsApp on a desktop browser rather than using it on a phone? Here is how you do it…

 

PowerPoint:

  • Did you ever customize the master slide design & layout to suit your needs and save it as your own theme to use it on an ongoing basis? Do you understand how customizing the slide master affects other layouts in your deck?
  • How good are you at using the advanced animation effects in PowerPoint – e.g. the motion paths animation?
  • Do you customize the deck for 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio of your monitor/projector?

 

Hopefully you get the drift of where I am going!

If you are a power user of any product, you will observe & learn 2 things:

  1. Product design patterns
  2. Attention to detail

Product Design Patterns: Successful products usually offer a breadth and depth of capabilities that are well layered. Take Microsoft Office for instance. A novice can easily get started on Office products. As the user’s needs grow, Office can keep up with its breadth and depth of features without being too overwhelming. As a power user, if you can leverage a product’s breadth and depth of capabilities to your advantage, you have a better shot at being a good PM that builds sophisticated products by applying similar design patterns to your products.

Attention to Detail: Great products offer a refined user experience driven by attention to detail. If you appreciate the attention to detail in great products, there is a good chance that you will build products that have similar attention to detail. More on that topic here…

 

Incidentally, I find it a great interview question when screening PMs – “Which products do you consider yourself a power user for?”. If the candidate is a power user of a few products, this person has a good shot at building better products!

Email is Dead! Really?

 

Email is the Jason Bourne of online – somebody’s always trying to kill it. It can’t be done!

-Anonymous

 

 

Email Tombstone

 

 

Not a week goes by without somebody at work throwing up hands that “email is useless”. Same thing with tech rags/sites/blogs proclaiming that email is dead. An occasional news story about a company that has completely banned email only adds to the hyperbole!

Every time I hear that, I’m thinking “BS!! Have you tried working without email for a week?

Don’t get me wrong. I love using IM, Lync, Hipchat, Webex, BlueJeans, Skype, Slack, Sharepoint, Wiki,  Confluence, DropBox  & any other tool-du-jour! Heck, I love meeting people face to face and even phone calls. But, I haven’t yet seen anything that’s as effective & well-rounded as email.

Don’t believe me?

Asynchronous: I can send emails during work hours or after dinner when the family has dozed off. Try doing that with other communication channels!

Thoughtful Communication: Without email ever tried to communicate a detailed strategy or proposal that requires long explanation, backup documents & spreadsheets?

External Communication: Tried working with people outside your group/function without using email? How about working with people outside your company (e.g. partners & customers)?

Cross Geography & Time Zones: Without using email try working with people in Stockholm or Bangalore while you are sitting here in California!

Meetings/Calendaring: Try setting up an hour long meeting with a handful of people without using email/calendaring!

Universal: Whether its work, family, friends, kids’ school or Amazon/Netflix/eTrade sending you notifications, email is a universal platform for communication.

Traveling: Some of my best productive moments happen when I am fly cross continent over to Europe or Asia. Without internet or interruptions, it’s a great time to catch-up on email, read analyst reports, absorb strategy decks, etc. By the time I land at the destination, I’m a whole lot wiser. Try doing all that without using an email product (e.g. Outlook) that syncs emails onto your laptop for offline use.

I rest my case!

 

Bottom-line: Can you reduce email? Are there better channels of communication than email for certain situations? Can the email experience be improved? Yes, yes & yes. Can you eliminate email in corporate? I won’t bet on that – I haven’t yet seen a realistic alternative that’s anywhere close to email!

 

It’s no wonder that email is the killer app of this century!!

 

 

Switching to Android – @#%*&$ and WOW!

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

-Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Switch to Android

 

Having been a power user of iPhone since 29th June 2007 (the iPhone launch day), never did I consider moving to any other platform – until recently.

A month ago on April 1st, I decided to prank myself – I switched to Android cold turkey on that Friday evening without ANY preparation whatsoever. I stayed on Android full-time for a full month (I vowed to not cheat) and here are my trials and tribulations with a pure Android 6.0 Marshmallow experience on a Google Nexus 5X.

 

First 2 Days

I HATED everything about Android – icons, colors, typography, navigation model, OS experience, 3rd party apps, hardware – EVERYTHING. It’s like shifting the furniture in a blind man’s apartment by a few inches – there was a  @%*&$# moment every so often with an urge to throw the phone at the wall! This was in spite of being very familiar with Android for a few years now!

Once I got over the initial frustration and setup everything , the experience was a lot smoother – in fact much better than I dreaded it to be!

 

Hardware Experience

With an iPhone, Apple is a vertically integrated manufacturer that tightly controls the end to end user experience. Whether it’s the simple rewind/pause/forward button on the earpod headset or the custom chip that drives the camera, 3D Touch, retina display, etc., Apple owns everything that is strategic to the end user experience – and hence the superior experience. But, your hardware choices are limited to the design musings of Jony Ive and his crew at Cupertino.

Android on the other hand offers a plethora of hardware choices. Depending on your needs (e.g. screen size, camera, pure Android versus OEM experience, finger print sensor, cost, etc.), you have a much wider variety of devices at differing price points (starting at $30). In the long term, this variety at different price points is a strategic win for Google/Android (evident from the market-share statistics) – especially in the non-premium market segments.

 

Native OS/Software Experience:

This is where iOS really shines over Android. Whether it’s the visual voicemail that requires carrier integration, email/calendar/contacts/tasks integration with your corporate Microsoft Exchange server or the Apple ecosystem integration via Continuity, the iOS experience is a couple of notches better than Android. Its mostly a result of Apple’s willingness to invest in attention to detail – more on that topic here.

To give credit where its due, Android has improved a LOT in the last couple of years. Google Now on Cards is sublime – it magically surfaces the information I need at the appropriate moment. Some may call it intrusive, I find it brilliant! After installing the Google Voice app, my international calls to India were automatically routed via the super-cheap Google Voice service rather than ATT. Awesome!

 

AppStore / Google Play Apps

On my iPhone, like most others, I had a ton of third party apps from the AppStore. When I switched to Android, at the end of the month, I had a mere 18 third party apps – ranging from the the usual Whatsapp/Facebook/Amazon to the more esoteric ATT Visual Voicemail. 18 apps is all I needed – I suspect that most people need less than 20 apps!

If your usage is mostly limited to popular top tier apps (e.g. Facebook, Whatsapp, Amazon, eBay, DropBox, Pandora, etc.), these apps tend to offer solid comparable experiences on both platforms. Once you get to less popular tier 2 or tier 3 apps, iOS versions of the app usually tend to be a little better designed & executed than their Android counterparts for 2 reasons:

  1. iOS apps generate more revenue and hence the developers have an incentive to invest a little bit more on their iOS app.
  2. Because of the OS/hardware fragmentation on Android, maintaining a high quality product on Android is a lot more challenging and needs more effort.

 

Summary

Switching to Android was a seesaw of @#%*&$ and WOW moments!

If you had asked me a month ago before this switch, without batting an eyelid, I would have said that iOS wins. Now that I walked a few miles in the Android shoes, I think the answer is a little more nuanced. Android has definitely caught up with iOS in the last couple of years. Today I believe that iPhone holds a definite lead in most areas  of the user experience (e.g. better hardware, tighter hardware/software integration, OS upgrade availability, fit-n-finish, customer support, etc.) while Android leads iPhone in a few areas (e.g. hardware choices & price points, Google Now, etc.).

 

As for me, I am back to paying the Apple tax!

 


Miscellaneous Notes:

  • The fingerprint sensor on Nexus 5X is waaaaaay faster than TouchID on iPhone 6. Wow!
  • I tried hard but could not get Visual Voicemail working on the Nexus 5X (a pure Android 6.0 experience). Had to download & use the ATT visual voicemail app.
  • The voice recognition & accuracy with Google Now is much better than Siri – even with my Indian accent.
  • As I go back to iPhone, I’ll sorely miss the hardware back button on Android. Although, Samsung’s choice of putting the back button on the right side is an abomination.
  • Steve Jobs would have described Google Now Cards as “magical”!

 

Apple TV – 4th Time’s the Charm for Industry Disruption?

If it weren’t for Philo Farnsworth, inventor of television, we’d still be eating frozen radio dinners.

 – Johnny Carson

 

Apple TV Small

 

Apple debuted the Apple TV product over eight years ago in Jan 2007. Over the years, Apple introduced 3 generations of the Apple TV to lukewarm response. Perhaps this lack of success is what prompted Steve Jobs to position the Apple TV as a “hobby”. The go-to market challenges associated with regionalized cable operators, hard negotiating oligopolistic studios, mish-mash of government regulations, consumers’ unwillingness to pay for a set top box, etc. certainly did not aid innovation in this industry.

For 8+ years Apple kept honing the Apple TV “hobby” and released their 4th gen New Apple TV a couple of weeks ago. In the latest iteration of the Apple TV with its new-fangled tvOS, Apple finally did a copy-paste of the AppStore ecosystem from iOS onto the TV. That opens the innovation flood gates of 3rd party developers to let a “million flowers bloom” for the TV experience. My fingers raced to click the Buy button on the first pre-order day!

I am not going to bore you with yet another review of the product – you can find that on NY Times, CNET & Engadget. Instead, here is my take on Apple TV’s potential (and Android TV, see PS below) to change & disrupt a few industries:

 

Casual Gaming: For the first week of the launch, Apple prominently featured the Asphalt 8 game on its TV AppStore. When my 11 year old son saw the Asphalt 8 icon on the TV, his eyes lit up and his jaw hit the proverbial floor. For the next hour, I could not pry the Apple TV remote from his hands while he raced his tricked out & nitro’ed McLaren P1 GTR through the streets of the London while the home theater speakers pumped out the visceral chest thumping roar of the McLaren. Quite a sensory experience that you don’t get on iPhones and iPads! Apple deliberately invested quite a bit on their graphics and game development frameworks/SDKs to make this possible.

While these $2.99 tvOS games may not be a threat to billion dollar franchises like Halo, the landscape of the casual gaming industry (think sub $20) will definitely change. In the coming years, the publishers of lightweight games on the game consoles will have a hard time convincing their customers to pony up $10-$20 for a game console title while similar games can be had on a multi-purpose Apple TV for $1.99 – $4.99. Over time, I expect these game publishers to migrate to the Apple TV gaming platform (& Android TV, see PS at the bottom).

 

Online Learning: After dinner, when the family has gone off to sleep, I have some difficult choices to make – read, watch Netflix from the comfort of a sofa or do something productive & cerebral with the laptop. It’s hard resisting the siren song of the sofa & remote!

With apps like TED & Coursera on the New Apple TV, it’s easier to engage in something more cerebral while comfortably ensconced in the sofa. Suddenly the Machine Learning course in Coursera doesn’t seem as daunting as it does on the computer. Given this ease of learning from the sofa & the TV, I expect more consumer traction for the online learning industry on the TV.

 

Cable TV Industry: This is going to take a few years to play out. Barring the exception of Tivo and DVRs, the cable TV experience has been more or less static for the last few decades. An average American household pays $86/month for cable TV – for which you get a few hundred channels most of which you never watch. With the availability of HBO, ABC, National Geographic, Disney etc. in an ala-carte model on the Apple TV, cord-cutting is now easier than ever before. However, before TV consumption over IP becomes mainstream, a lot of work needs to be done by Apple to improve the user experience. The current model of app switching on the TV is nowhere as convenient as channel surfing with your set top box!

This decoupling of content providers & cable operators probably bodes well for the content providers as well. Once they have their channel as an app on the Apple TV (or Android TV), their market availability is worldwide – they probably don’t need to worry about negotiating with dozens of cable operators worldwide!

 

What other Disruptions?: Unlike mobile phones, tablets and laptops that offer a personalized compute experience for you, an app-enabled smart TV offers a new model – a shared (for you & everybody around you) compute experience from the comfort of a sofa. Try the gorgeous AirBnB app on a TV and you will know what I mean. The voice search via Siri is also pretty nifty – I’m looking forward to Apple opening up Siri to third party developers. What new opportunities (or disruptions) that creates, only time will tell. I for one, am quite looking forward to that!

 

PS: The New Apple TV & Google’s Android TV are very similar positioned and compete neck to neck. Given that, the above commentary applies equally well to the Android TV. In fact, the combined forces of these 2 behemoths probably double the chances of industry disruption!

Driving Big Impact with Little Details

Little things make big things happen!

– John Wooden

Attention to Detail

Ever wondered what sets apart a 3-star Hilton from a 4-star Hyatt? A 4-star Hyatt from a 5-star Ritz Carlton? End of the day, they are all hotels with similar amenities – beds, bathroom, linen, TV, writing desk, swimming pool, front desk etc. So what gives?

Attention to Little Details!

Among other things, the biggest differences within different levels of hotels are the little details that translate to a more refined customer experience. As you go up the star chain, the attention to detail gets better – the guy behind the desk is better dressed and more helpful, the bed sheet thread count goes up, pillow menu – multiple pillows of varying softness, the room décor & accoutrements are more refined, swimming pool is better maintained, nicer landscaping, parking lots are better paved & lighted, etc.

However, when it comes to the technology world, for a variety of reasons, there is a lot of focus on ROI driven “big bang” features and functionality while refinements and attention to smaller details often take a back seat.

When using products (and driving my teams that build technology products), I tend to pay a lot of attention to little details. Here are a few that I love:

  • Palm Treo (RIP): The Palm platform had its own share of rabid followers until iOS/Android ate its lunch (and dinner). On the Palm Treo when you received a call, there was a little button on the lock screen that let you send a text message “Call you back in 10 mins” with one click of the button. That’s a clever little detail that I always wanted on the iPhone – Apple added this last year in iOS 8.
  • Microsoft Outlook’s Insert Screenshot: A lot of people in corporate world would rather give up their first born than give up Microsoft Outlook on Windows (I am probably in that camp). When writing emails, you often need to add a screenshot to illustrate your point. Outlook’s email compose window has the “Insert > Screenshot” menu to quickly add a screenshot. This is one of those little gems that saves the tedium of “capture screenshot > save image to desktop > attach image to email > delete image file on desktop”.
  • Apple Magic Mouse 2 “Sound”: One can’t talk about attention to detail without an obligatory mention of Apple! Recently Apple released the Magic Mouse 2. With all the changes they made, apparently the mouse didn’t “sound right” when it was moved around on the desk. The engineers had to continuously tweak the bottom polycarbonate runner geometry until the mouse “sounded right”. Read more here…
  • BMW 328i: Cars have 5 to 6 buttons on the dashboard to program your favorite radio station. BMW takes those 6 buttons to the next level with 2 refinements: (1) Those 6 buttons are touch-sensitive – if you lightly touch (not press) any of those buttons, the dashboard display shows the radio station (or action) assigned to that button. (2) You can assign different actions to those 6 buttons – not just radio stations. I programmed the 6th button in my wife’s car to the navigation system’s “Go Home” functionality. When driving in unfamiliar neighborhoods, to head home, all my wife has to do is press the button 6 and the navigation system fires up to head home. This really saves her the distraction of futzing around the multi-level menus when driving. Clever!
  • Google Express: Yesterday I ordered a few items on Google Shopping Express. When they were delivered in the evening around 7:45pm, there was a problem with one item in the batch – the lid for a liquid soap bottle was broken. At 8pm somebody from Google Express called to discuss the issue. Usually delivery services expect the customer to contact the company when there is a problem. In this case, Google Express proactively called me to discuss the issue. To make that happen, Google had to setup a process where the delivery driver notifies the back office about a problem & the backoffice calls the customer immediately (at 8pm) – providing that level of service requires a non-trivial investment of time and resources. Kudos to Google!

So, organizationally (not at an individual level), how to drive attention to detail?

4 things come to my mind:

  1. Resources: You have the ask the tough question – do my teams have the people and resources to deliver attention to detail? Quite often, teams are spread thin – too few people doing too many things – structurally that does not lend itself attention to detail. In order to deliver attention to detail, you need to make sure that people aren’t spread too thin.
  2. Hiring Right: Hire the people with the right background, culture and mindset. Hiring a chef from Taco Bell for a job at Ritz Carlton doesn’t work!
  3. Balanced Roadmaps: As a part of product roadmaps, mandate your team to include refinements that improve user experience with little details. More on that here…
  4. Set the Bar: An expectation & bar needs to be set with regards to attention to detail – AND hold people accountable to that bar. For example – if your product/service doesn’t meet the expected bar, delay the launch. That puts the pressure on the teams to keep working until the bar is met.

Summary

Whether its products or services, B2B or B2C, in addition to ROI driven activities, features and capabilities, teams need to invest time & resources to pay close attention to detail. That is how products/services build a strong fan base that resist abandoning your product/service when a competitive product/service with a cheaper price comes along.

No wonder successful companies like Apple, Lexus, Ritz Carlton, Microsoft, etc. consider “attention to detail” a big part of their strategy to deliver great products/services!

Apple Watch – Judge it Tomorrow, not Today

Judge me not for what I’ve done, but what I’ll do!

– Unknown

Apple Watch

With the Sept 2014 announcement for Apple Watch, Apple joined the crowded league of Google, Samsung, Motorola, Fitbit, Pebble, etc. jostling for the next wave of wearable computing. When it became available for pre-order in April 2015, after some research, I decided to postpone the purchase until the next generation Apple Watch.

When Apple announced the watchOS 2 in the June WWDC, I ordered the Apple Watch as soon as I finished watching the opening day keynote video! I was excited about what’s coming in Apple watchOS 2 and I wanted to live through that evolution.

I finally got my Apple Watch Sport a month ago. I’m not going to bore you with unboxing photos and videos (you can find that here, here and here). Instead, here are my impressions based on my 4 weeks of use:

Useful – but not compelling

  • Activity Tracking: With those 3 concentric activity circles on Apple Watch that visualize your Move/Exercise/Stand times, what we’ve always suspected is now confirmed – our lives are very very sedentary. The periodic haptic feedback on the wrist is a nice subtle nudge to get off the butt!
  • Notifications & Messages: I setup my watch to receive notifications from a select few apps (e.g. Messages, Calendar, Whatsapp, etc.) and blocked notifications from most other apps. It’s convenient to quickly view messages & select notifications on the wrist without having to pull out the phone.
  • Phone Calls: At the risk of looking like a “beam-me-up-Scotty” Star Trek geek, talking into your watch for a quick 10 second call (e.g. “honey, please pick up the kids”) on the phone is useful on occasion.
  • Glances: As the name suggests, Glances on Apple Watch provides a “one screen construct” for apps to surface their functionality. Most third party apps that I used make an uninspired use of the Glances construct. However, one app that shines at the use of Glances is the Zillow app. The other day I was hanging out on the Carmel beach with my out of state friends. As we were driving back in the car, this friend was curious about the property prices around the Ocean Ave in Carmel. While driving, I just swiped up on my watch and the Zillow’s Glances interface showed the nearest property value – neat! When implemented correctly, Glances experience can be sublime.
  • Siri: Siri on the wrist is infinitely more convenient than using Siri on iPhone to satiate those moments of curiosities!

Not so great

  • Battery Issues: The 24 hour battery life on the Apple Watch is inadequate – nuff has been written about that in tech rags. It doesn’t end there. To support the up-to-date display of watch-face complications (calendar, weather, stocks, etc.), turns out that the watch is constantly chit-chatting with its sibling iPhone – and that drains the iPhone battery. Yuck!
  • Geeky Look: Is it the thickness, the rubber strap, rectangular shape or the profile of the watch (looks like a mini iPhone on the wrist)? Maybe all of the above. Regardless of how salivating it looks on Apple website, Apple Watch on most wrists looks geeky!
  • Expensive Straps: I understand the strategy of premium pricing, accessory margins, etc. However, the $49 rubber strap (errr Fluoroelastomer) is too expensive even for Apple provenance – the COGS (cost of goods sold) on this band is $2.05 according to research firm IHS! Don’t even get me started on the $249 modern buckle leather band & $449 link bracelet. I ended up buying a $20 leather band from eBay! When Apple launched the iPhone1 in June 2007, they dropped the price by $200 after 66 days of the launch. Will history repeat itself? @AngelaAhrendts, are you listening?

Future – Wearable Apps, NOT Mobile Apps

Given my lukewarm experience, it’s tempting to write off the Apple Watch. Tepid sales of 3+ million units for Apple Watch to-date confirms my own experience – most people find it to be a curious (and an expensive) technology – not very compelling!

BUT, I’m still excited about the Apple Watch prospects (and the smart watch industry in general). Why?

Most Apple Watch experiences today (especially the third party apps) are built as an after-thought extension of their iPhone apps. Perhaps that’s a result of the architecture of the WatchKit SDK today – the watch app extension code runs on the phone while the display is handled on watch. I call these mobile app extensions for the watch.

However, the watchOS 2 (coming in Fall 2015) changes the paradigm. Apple watchOS 2 allows apps that are completely native to the watch – apps that execute natively on the watch and can access the motion sensors, audio capabilities, health sensors, etc. on the watch – i.e. wearable apps. This new breed of wearable apps are purpose built for the watch – and not poor extensions of today’s mobile apps. While mobile apps and wearable apps share similarities, wearable apps are distinctly different and enable experiences that are not possible with today’s mobile apps:

  • Purpose Built:  The best apps for Apple Watch are built for the wrist AND they naturally lend themselves to off-the-wrist consumption – not just extensions of the phone app. I’m glad that Facebook & Snapchat decided to defer their watch apps until they have something more compelling!
  • Immediacy: Imagine turning your wrist to a custom clock face/complications that shows you the exact information you want – e.g. the yardage of the next hole on the golf course. With mobile apps this will require pulling out the phone from your pocket, unlock the screen, launch an app etc.
  • Sensor Driven: Unlike the iPhone that alternates its stay on the dresser, in the pocket, car’s cup holder and the desk, the Apple Watch remains strapped to your wrist for the better part of the day. Imagine a watch app that analyzes your hand/body motion movement and identifies early signs of carpal tunnel syndrome or other health issues. Imagine apps that take advantage of heart rate data.
  • Discreet: Imagine you were carjacked. You could discreetly triple click the button/crown that notifies the law enforcement agencies with you location. It could even activate and relay the microphone audio stream off the watch.

Just as the mobile apps today enable a distinctly different functionality compared to the desktop & web-based applications of yesteryears, I expect the new class of wearable apps (end of the year?) to offer user experiences that are above and beyond today’s mobile apps. This is exciting!

 

Verdict:

Apple Watch + watchOS 1.1 today = platform for Mobile Apps (& Extensions)

Apple Watch + watchOS 2.0 tomorrow = platform for Wearable Apps

This is a classic case of “Judge me not for what I’ve done, but what I’ll do!