Watch. It’s personal.
2014 has been one of the strongest for Apple’s product line in many years. In the first 9 months of the year, the following updates were announced, each of which may eventually move the needle for Apple’s business:
- HealthKit: central spot for all of our health tracking apps and devices
- HomeKit: central spot for all of your home automation apps and devices
- Swift: new language to woo more devs. More devs == more apps == more $
- iPhone 6/6+: you know these will sell
- CloudKit: devs can build/host their own services with minimal effort and $
- CloudDrive: sync files between iOS and Mac. Means they’ll sell more Macs
- Handoff: move tasks between iOS and Mac. Means they’ll sell more Macs
- Payments: sounds like they’ll take a cut of each payment processed
That’s 2014. And I probably missed stuff. Not sure I’d agree with Eddie Cue that it’s the best “product pipeline in 25 years”, but I suppose 2014 isn’t over yet.
Now for Watch. Here are my initial thoughts on what I saw in the keynote - after a couple of times through.
Version 1 Depth. Given it’s a first release, I’m impressed with the depth of the product. The choice offered with watch faces and straps is unprecedented for Apple (known for offering only white and black, and black). However, I think choice is essential if you’re going to compel the masses to wear this device. I also feel the app offering is deep and I’m happy to see that a developer SDK will be coming in short order.
Software. People love to tout hardware specs. But software is the killer spec for devices. Software-as-a-feature is overlooked by all those who miss the core tenant of Apple’s value prop - tight integration of hardware and software. That’s it. The magic ingredient is there for all to see, and it’s the competitive moat that Apple has built for themselves in the device market for many years now. This integration wouldn’t have the impact it does if the software was’t so strong. If the watch ships with an OS having the polish of iOS, then I have no doubt this device will be a pleasure to use. They showed interface elements that borrowed from iOS but also from their iPod line, blending the two together in a way that screamed, “we know what we’re doing”. I personally loved the app launcher and thought it felt like a natural way to organize apps on a touch device - would be interested to see something like this come to iOS, perhaps. Notification handling seemed seamless and the “taptic" feedback for alerts and turn based directions in Maps seems like a great approach. I think some apps, like Photos, felt a little awkward on such a small form factor, but the navigation feature on Maps feels like a perfect use case, as do all of the fitness related features. A killer fitness device has landed and it’s no surprise that Nike folded up it’s fitness band endeavor.
New Interaction Model. Talk, tap, force touch, digital crown and a button. It really feels like Apple thought carefully around the best ways to interact with the product. Once shown, force touch just feels obvious. Would love to see this come to the phone and tablet as the tap-and-hold gesture is less than discoverable and slows my interaction with apps. The crown feels like an adaptation of the iPod’s click wheel that seems like a natural fit on a watch. Interesting that the side button has a dedicated action for accessing your fav contacts and seems to suggest that Apple sees watch-to-watch communication as either a killer feature or one with a stickiness factor which will keep users locked on the Apple platform.
SDK. Unleash the power of one of the most passionate developer communities on the planet. Apple has given us Swift, its new easy to learn language, in the hopes of super charging its already immense army of developers. This product is one which may see the Swift benefits. They know that their other competitive moat is the power of the app store. It’s not just a numbers game. It isn’t that there are 1.3M apps on the app store, though that helps, it’s that the best apps come to the App Store first. They need that to be the case with the watch and they’re not taking any chances. SDK is on deck.
Personalization. I think Jony Ive says it best during the keynote, “we’re now at a compelling beginning — designing technology to be worn, to be truly personal”. I agree, this is just the beginning. A beginning woven from the DNA of the iPhones and iPods before. You can see that a core value of the product was for it to feel “personal”. Whether they achieved it in this first version is rather immaterial. What’s important is that they’re working towards solving how to make something you wear feel less like a computer and more like a part of your personal style - they have work to do. This goes for any wearable, and I’m sure explains the recent hires Apple has made from the fashion industry. People who will probably have an increasing role on influencing upcoming generations of the product. I think personalizations like the wrist straps, customizable emoticons, watch faces, and sketch up instant messaging are only the first wave of this thinking.
It’s easy to laugh at the crazy marketing terms they apply to seemingly simple features, but I don’t let that distract me from what I see as yet another opportunity served up by Apple. An opportunity for software developers to leverage a new product category to create awesome experiences for people around the world. I’m very excited to dig into the new SDK when it ships and see what’s possible. I think Apple has done an awesome job of tying hardware and software together and you can see the influence of years in iOS and years before with the iPod line. The success of this product will lie in its ability to either match enough consumers design esthetic, or compel them to wear something they otherwise wouldn’t because of the value it brings. In its first year, I would expect most buyers would fall into three camps; those who will buy pretty much anything Apple ships, geeks who love a new gadget (heavy overlap with the first group), and those who really want a killer fitness device. I’m betting that enough will buy the product that building out app experiences for the device presents a unique development opportunity in a new product category.
So do I think this is a perfect product? No. I bet it’s not even close to perfect. But it’s a thoughtful design with great looking software and I think it’ll open up some new and interesting app ideas.
Should be fun.