Reports of the death of the Apple Watch have been greatly exaggerated.
(it’s time to Breathe)
And here’s the thing: In the main, we’re one of them.
(I’m discounting some specific and niche products here — for these very specific use cases, an app on your wrist makes perfect sense — and they will continue to thrive and be made. But they are not the mainstream.)
But is that actually bad news?
750 days ago…
When Apple Watch was first announced we were super excited about the possibilities and opportunities for us as an app-focussed product studio.
Going on initial reports of rumoured capability we started brainstorming plans for a number of diverse products — everything from:
- A port of the 1980s console Vectrex ‘Bedlam’ game [YouTube] (following on from our Vectrex app [App Store]) where the player would control the direction of fire of the central tower using the crown and either tap the screen or use the side button to ‘zap’.
- A swimmers aid (we assumed the watch would be waterproof) where the accelerometers and gyroscopes in the watch would be used to analyse a swimmers stroke to offer lap timing, length counting, and advice on improving technique.
And a whole bunch of others!
We ordered our watches, and had two available to our team in-house on launch day. Exciting!
We quickly found out a number of things:
- The hardware was initially quite limited. Performance was poor for third party apps (and not great for the ones that Apple included!) — waiting for an app to launch on the watch wasn’t — for the first release of the hardware /OS— any faster or more convenient than launching on your phone. And connectivity — which relied on your phone — was sluggish.
- We’d misunderstood the UX of using a watch as a device for (as an example) a game. It’s not a device you’re *holding* it’s a device you’re *wearing* and that makes a profound difference to the use-cases and how you approach apps.
We decided early that it wasn’t going to be a platform for any kind of mainstream gaming experience (beyond certain specialist, notification, or physical location-based games).
For other kinds of apps (non-game) the UX consideration is also highly relevant, with a clear divide of what is useful and what provides a good experience through a watch form factor. Ultimately a much more limited subset of use-cases.
- It wasn’t possible to create a stand-alone Apple Watch app — apps had to be downloaded to the phone, then installed onto the watch. This approach creates friction for users using third party apps, and serves — I think — to put off developers from investing significant time building for the platform.
Does that mean the Apple Watch is dead?
Far from it!
As a consumer, I love my Apple Watch. I use it every day for very discrete tasks (where the UX of the watch is perfect) including:
- telling the time!
- being notified quickly of things I care about
- Siri — almost exclusively used for quickly setting cooking timers (“countdown 20 minutes”) and quick-fire messages (“tell my wife I’m on my way home”)
- tracking exercise
- skipping tracks on music
It’s going to continue to get better. I certainly don’t see Apple abandoning Apple Watch, just continuing to iterate and add things to improve the product, such as better integration to the Apple ecosystem, thinner, faster, more ‘smart’ hardware, better battery and so on. But those things aren’t going to cause a stampede of mainstream developers back to the platform.
Personally, I think it could just be the case that Apple have built a classic, stand-alone great product — one that people enjoy and use out of the box, but where the appeal of an App Store is a limited one.
That’s OK in my book. Not every product needs a massive App Store.