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”!

 

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Methodically Ignoring Your Customers, Again?

Customers are like teeth. Ignore them and they’ll go away!

– Jerry Flanagan

 

Ignored Customer

 

You read that right! Many medium/large sized companies in Corporate America have processes that methodically (but unintentionally) ignore the customer – especially in the software technology space. Here is what I mean…

Consider a medium/large sized company Acme Corporation that is in the technology business (my domain). When the product teams (comprised of Product Managers, Eng, QA, UX, Marketing, etc.) plan the next big version of the product, they seek input from key stakeholders. Sales teams provide feedback on new features/functionality that lets them close more deals. Customer Support provides input to improve product quality & reduce support contact thereby bringing cost savings. Marketing provides competitive information and other inputs to better position the product against competition. Different stakeholders provide inputs that impact their groups. So what’s missing?

What about your existing loyal customers who religiously use your product/service’s existing functionality? These loyal customers are your bread and butter. Chances are, they are being methodically ignored during every product cycle – here’s how:

When existing customers or prospects request new features that are deemed “major”, such requests are usually acted upon. If customers complain about egregious problems, they get fixed. What about problems that are “minor” inefficiencies, irritations or improvements? Often customers don’t proactively complain about what they see as “little issues”. Even if they complain, often that feedback gets lost in the process because those issues are prioritized as “minor” and get ignored. Over a period of quarters and years, these “minor” product issues accumulate and the end result is a product that’s heading towards mediocrity.

Why does this happen?

Engineers want to work on cool new stuff. Product teams are pressured into working on items that affect the sales top line or cost savings bottom line. Items that make the teams look good in QBRs (quarterly business reviews) get a higher priority. Egregious problems do get fixed, while the “minor” issues/irritations/improvements often get ignored. As a result, without the product teams realizing, the product gradually creeps towards mediocrity.

Don’t believe what I am saying? Take a look at your company’s HR, Procurement, Contract, Inventory, Quoting, Payroll, Legal or such similar software. Barring an exception or two, chances as, these products have mediocre user experiences (clunky, un-intuitive, hard to use, missing functionality, etc.).

How to avoid this march to mediocrity?

There’s at least 3 ways to monitor & address this.

  1. Measure Customer Satisfaction: Senior Management needs to actively drive the exercise of bi-annual (or annual) customer satisfaction measurement. NPS (Net Promoter Score) is an industry standard methodology of measuring how likely your customers are to refer your product/service to others. NPS is a direct reflection of customer satisfaction. Management needs to measure NPS (or an equivalent metric) on an ongoing basis and make this score a part of the KPI (key performance indicator). This gives an incentive to product teams to pro-actively address the minor issues.
  2. User Research: Most companies under invest in user research – read more on this here. When user research investments & activities are increased, product/service niggles are uncovered that can be then proactively addressed by the product teams.
  3. Dedicate Bandwidth: Product teams should dedicate a non-trivial percentage of engineering bandwidth (e.g. 10% – 20%) and use this bandwidth to exclusively focus on improving existing product functionality (not new functionality). This forces product teams to proactively address  “minor” issues & details that often get swept under the rug. Click here to read more on the topic of little details.

 

None of this is rocket science. It’s a matter of Management and Product Teams deliberately setting priorities and allocating investments & resources to make sure that customers and products experiences are not getting ignored!

 

Silicon Valley Engineering VS Wall Street Engineering

I think one problem we’ve had is that people who are smart, creative and innovative as engineers went into financial engineering.

– Walter Isaacson

 

FinancialEng

What do Citrix & Yahoo have in common? Along those same lines, what do Facebook and Google have in common?

These companies typify the battle that’s brewing between Silicon Valley Technology Engineering & Wall Street Financial Engineering!

Since the early days of Silicon Valley with Shockley Semiconductor, Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, our tech industry has been intertwined with venture capitalists & wall street. Technology companies need access to cash to fund the engineering efforts. VC’s are only too happy to supply the funds in hope of future payoffs. When that payoff happens in the form of an IPO, Wall Street too gets their pound of flesh. Over the years, asset management companies, LBO specialists, investment bankers, hedge funds & private equity funds too got involved in the game by investing in private & public companies, taking the public companies private, buybacks, special dividends, divestitures, spin-offs, mergers, etc. – quite a financial engineering bouquet.

In the recent years, beyond writing investment checks, some of these funds have been taking a more aggressive stance in dealing with the tech companies that they have invested in. Initially, they try to work behind the scenes with the company’s management team to drive the changes they seek. If that doesn’t work, they lobby & fight publicly (open letters to management, proxy wars, board room battles, lawsuits, etc.) to drive changes – hence the term “activist investors”.

Yahoo: Yahoo has been going through a turmoil in the recent years – revenue/profit drops, lack-luster product strategy, non-performing acquisitions & “acquihiring”, losing market share, talent exodus, competing with Google, Facebook & Microsoft, etc. Clearly, the investors who plunked money into Yahoo aren’t too thrilled. Hedge fund investors like Starboard Value are openly pushing for major changes such as selling Yahoo’s core business, layoff employees, replace executive management, etc.

Citrix: Meanwhile, Citrix has been facing its own share of pressure from its activist investor Elliott Management. Driven by Elliott, Citrix has been divesting product lines, spinning out its GoTo products, laying off employees, etc.

These moves on the part of activist investors are designed to improve the company’s stock value & EBITDA multiples in the short term – leading to a higher ROI for the investors. However, these activist investors are probably not thinking about the long term impact on the company, employees, product strategy, synergies, customers and partners. These investors have a single minded drive of improving short term ROI and nothing but ROI – and it’s hard to fault them because that’s how the Wall Street gets compensated.

So, how are companies supposed to protect themselves from these short term ROI driven investors? How do they control their destiny?

Turns out, Facebook and Google have figured that out!

Facebook: Facebook instituted a dual-class stock structure years before the IPO – class A & class B shares where class B shares carry ten votes per share while class A shares carry one vote per share. Mark Zuckerberg owns class B shares while the rest of the mere-mortals gets class A shares. As of few months ago, Zuckerberg controls 55% of the voting power even though his share ownership is much lower. What this means is – Zuckerberg and his team have absolute control over the company strategy & direction. Investors and Funds have no ability to hold the gun to Zuckerberg’s head or do any financial engineering to drive short term ROI!

Google: Google being Google (aka Alphabet), takes this strategy one step ahead of Facebook. Google has a three class share structure – classes A, B & C. Class A shares (ticker:GOOGL) get one vote per share, class B shares get 10 votes per share while class C (ticker:GOOG) shareholders get zilch/zero/nada votes per share. Class B shares (with 10 votes per share) are owned by Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt and a few other insiders. This structure puts Google’s reins firmly in the hands of the management team without any form of activist investor interference. This absolute control also makes it easier for Google to spend billions of dollars on the moonshot projects without having to worry about the second guessing investors!

While its reassuring to know that the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin & Eric Schmidt have absolute control over their company’s destiny, over the long term, only time will tell whether that’s a good thing or not!

 

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!

Hire the person that says – “I Don’t Know”

Teach thy tongue to say I do not know and thou shalt progress! 

– Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides)

Hiring

Over the years, I have interviewed and hired (& sometimes fired) many people – including engineers, product managers, QA, marketers, project managers, senior leaders, etc. Whether it’s a startup or a multinational corporate, hiring is arguably one of the most important decisions for the company.

So, how to hire the right people for the job? How to separate wheat from the chaff? Here are a few things I look for when I interview & hire people:

Domain Knowledge: Whether you are running a refrigerated meat warehouse or building a Cassandra big data warehouse, unless you are hiring fresh grads, you need to hire people who have an understanding of your business, technology involved, industry knowledge, etc. Hiring people with the right domain knowledge mix allows you to build the correct product/service with fewer mistakes & iterations. There is a reason why companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Netflix, Yahoo, Microsoft, Tesla, etc. pay premium salaries & sign-on bonuses while poaching from each other to get the domain expertise.

Basic Smarts: Don’t think I need to elaborate much on this.

Tenacity & Persistence: Great products/services don’t built in the first iteration – similarly tough problems don’t get solved in the first try. You need to keep going at it until you crack it. I look for evidence in the person’s resume/background that shows that the person has the persistence to keep going even when things get tough.

Details & Execution Strength: As they say, success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I like people who are willing to sweat the details and focus on execution (aka get stuff done) – I’m not a big fan of people who skim the details. If you don’t dive into details, whatever you deliver will be pedestrian quality that will crumble sooner or later. When Mark Hurd got fired from HP, he immediately got hired by Oracle with a $40 million pay package. Why? Mark had a reputation for detailed analysis and focus on driving results. Read more about my views on attention to details…

Thinking Patterns: I like to understand how the candidate structures his/her thinking on a given topic. To judge this, I sometimes ask candidates to share a non-confidential document/deck that they have authored. This also helps me gauge their communication skills.

Team Composition & Culture: You need to ask the question – how does this new person fit into the overall team composition? People-person vs lone-wolf, tactical do’er vs strategic thinker, leader vs follower, specialist vs generalist, academic vs hustler, etc. End of the day, what you want is a well-balanced and a well-rounded team that gets the job done.

… and now about that rare quality:

I Don’t Know: Professional and Intellectual honesty is one of the most under-rated qualities – it’s also a quality that’s hard-to-detect. Everything else being equal, when I find a smart candidate that says “I don’t know” for a question or a concept, I know I have found an intellectually honest candidate. This also affirms that the candidate is not a glib talker.

Hiring right is more of an art than science – hope you find the Yoda you’re looking for!

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?

3 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. 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!