4 Product Design Lessons You Can Learn from the Apple Watch

When the Apple Watch launched in April 2015, it cast a wide net in terms of functionality and customer segmentation. No, the device wasn’t intended to replace your iPhone. But it was intended to augment the way you experience other products and apps. For example, instead of grabbing their phones to use Apple Pay, Apple Watch wearers have all of their payment info right on their wrists. There are a number of health apps, too, that enable Apple Watch owners to keep track of health data, log information relating to their runs, and look at yoga poses.

Early on, analysts released highly optimistic reports on the watch, some even predicting as many as 42 million units would be sold in 2015. To put those estimates in perspective…Apple sold less than 20 million iPads in its first four quarters on the market.

Fast forwarding three years, despite all the hysteria prior to launch, Apple’s watch has yet to take off. One report said more than half of those who bought the inaugural watch stopped using it within two weeks. In an effort to save face and attract more buyers, Apple even recently announced a $50 price cut.

But despite the watch’s questioned success, Apple has remained unfazed. Due to its plentiful resources and general market dominance with behemoth product lines ranging from iPhone to MacBook, risk was always seemingly low. Apple likely never really felt the pressure to find a perfect market fit for their new product because consequences were few and far between — money certainly wasn’t a big concern and people were expected to buy based on brand alone.

Alternatively, if that same scenario was applied to almost any other company, there would likely be serious consequences. Launching a product with such wide functionality to a broad audience more often than not will result in consumer confusion and low adoption, which will make it challenging to gather feedback, iterate, and improve the product.

If you want your product to succeed, you must to work hard to find the perfect product-market fit. And that search doesn’t happen overnight. It usually takes years. The good news behind all of this is we can still learn from what’s happened with the Apple Watch launch.

Let’s take a deeper look…

1. Your Product Needs to Make a Difference

There are some things you can do with your Apple Watch that don’t require your iPhone to be nearby. But for the most part, in order for your Apple Watch to work, your phone needs to be close. For a product that was marketed to free users from their smartphones, the Apple Watch doesn’t really appear to do that.

Your products need to make a difference. Companies that fail to build their products on that basis are unlikely to stick around for the long term, regardless of previous successes.

To this end, product designer teams should consider anticipatory designs that personalize experiences without forcing the user to give up any control. Today’s users have grown to expect a personalized experience. Products lacking that functionality might never catch on with the masses.

2. You Need a Solid Growth Model

Apple had been on quite the roll with its consumer products. The company might have figured that it didn’t really need to do its due diligence with respect to a growth model simply because data suggested their product would be a hit no matter what. And maybe that was true. But you are not Apple. You should be putting together a comprehensive growth model that can help guide your product team to a favorable outcome. If not, there is no goal in sight and the measurement of success becomes unquantifiable.

And don’t wait until your product is launched to think about growth. You can gather and grow an audience even before you launch. Today, companies can provide a lot of value to customers simply through content. TripIt, for example, offers a premium service intended to drive customer interaction separate from the standard functionality of a travel itinerary app — through rewards, desired flight notifications, deals, and refunds.

That potential to drive meaningful connections with individual users should continue taking place after the product is launched, as brands increasingly leverage integrated social media data to produce rich, hyper-targeted content that’s relevant.

3. You Probably Don’t Need to Be on Every Platform

When the wearable device launched, many companies scrambled to make sure their apps and products were Apple Watch-friendly. However, since the Apple Watch hasn’t caught on — and might never catch on — you can’t help but think about how much time and how many resources were wasted by many companies. Rather than waiting to see how the product would fare in the market, many developers jumped the gun.

Before you begin shaping your product for a new platform or device, you need to ask yourself whether your product is suited to operate on said platform or device. In the case of the Apple Watch, it’s safe to say many product teams didn’t think that through.

4. You Can Always Get Lucky

Sometimes, however, you get lucky. People figure out how to use your product in a way that works for them.

Evernote debuted in 2008. For a while, the platform struggled with user adoption. The company then launched a campaign to get its users to create short YouTube videos to show how they used the platform. For example, there’s a video that shows how a dairy farmer uses Evernote. There’s also one that depicts how a real estate agent uses it. As you can see, this open approach allowed end users to shape the product as they saw fit. And their diverse customer base is a testament to that.

Yes, Evernote has struggled lately. But the company mostly became prominent because its users figured out how the product could make their lives easier more or less on their own.

Key Takeaway

Just remember, contrary to popular belief, most products are not overnight successes. Behind every overnight success is years of trial and error. Success comes when you create a user experience that people love through solving a real problem, providing real value to your audience, and making sure that every interaction they have with your brand is telling the same story.

It stems from the combination of hard work, thorough planning, and determination. So test, get feedback, retest, and repeat — your product is unlikely to find a market-fit on its own.