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!

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