The Apple Watch Is Built On The Wrong Technology: Apps

The Apple Watch Is Built On The Wrong Technology: Apps

Regardless of it’s amazing touch screen technology, beautiful form factor, and delightful interface… it’s the App Store that made the iPhone.

After the launch of the iPhone, “There’s an app for that” become a classic catchphrase and developers and startups everywhere (myself included) clamored for every smartphone owner to download their app. The promise of features presented within apps seems endless. But then something predictable happened… The app market flooded. And the noise grew. And those of us in UX who have conducted testing in the mobile space know that, despite our best marketing efforts, many smartphone owners still use only but a few apps.

Enter the Apple Watch. This extension of our beloved iPhone looks amazing, feels great, and may unfortunately be built on a soon-to-be outdated paradigm: Apps.

When the Apple Watch App Store launched earlier this week, I was uberecstatic to see the offerings. Simple, elegant designs that all look useful and intuitive. But then I started thinking about usability, true contextual usability.

I’m out for a run and I want to take a quick peek at my milage then change the song. Now I’m running with both elbows up in the air while trying to swipe and hard tap.

I’m carrying my briefcase and rolling my other bag down the terminal on my way to board a plane. Hands full, how do I to swipe my watch to see the right gate number again? Or likewise, trying to find my seat number in a cramped cabin with two bags in-hand?!

The value proposition of an app is predicated on what it can do for you, ie. it’s features. The delivery of that value is measured in how well those features work in context. So if I’m out for a run, I probably won’t want to pull out my mileage tracking iPhone 6+… high value proposition, low value delivery. But if I had an Apple Watch I could glance down and see my milage… right? Only if my watch was already on that app. High value proposition… low value delivery.

The way of the world is to embed valuable features inside an app. And the operating systems, as currently designed by Apple and Google alike, will only allow you access to these apps on a one-on-screen-at-a-time basis. I really want to question if this paradigm of features buried in apps really going to continue to work.

What’s the ideal scenario?

I’m out for a run and I look down at my watch. Because my arm was swinging (accelerometer) and it knows how fast I’m moving (GPS) it shows me milage, time, etc. I say “next song” (voice without touch) and it plays the next track. I’m walking through the airport (location) and I see the time, time to departure, and gate information. I’m watching Game of Thrones on my couch (time, noise detection) and the remote control app is next to the clock or Twitter or whatever it is I usually do during that show on that day of the week in that space. Context, context, context.

When integration of features become that seamless will we still need the wrapper of apps? Will we need a scroll wheel or a menu even? Will apps stop at the borders of one-screen-at-a-time or allow me to see the Nike milage count while showing directions on an Apple map?

We’ve reached the limits of our app borders. Perhaps we’re ready for a cross device operating system that just supports features: unwrapped.

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