​Apple Watch: Will a killer app emerge?

The reviews for the Apple Watch highlight opportunities and challenges for the smartwatch category. One thing is clear: The category and Apple are going to need a killer app.

The Apple Watch reviews have landed and there weren't a lot of surprises. The battery life is about what was expected and the apps have potential, but there are lingering questions about the Apple Watch's purpose (just like all smartwatches).

Read Scott Stein's Apple Watch review at CNET, but one of the biggest questions revolves around apps. As ZDNet's Kevin Tofel noted, Apple is priming the developer pump for the Apple Watch, but that apps are tougher to build relative to the iPad because they have to strip out features and focus more. As a general rule, the smaller screens provide the bigger product development challenges.

The Apple Watch is critical to the whole notion of the smartwatch because of the following reasons:

  • Smartwatches can't connect without a smartphone so the value revolves around how much convenience is there over a larger screen.
  • Apple is promising a more human interaction with its smartwatch, but are notifications buzzing on your wrist a real improvement?
  • Battery life is tricky if you use apps a lot.
  • Consumers and businesses need to be educated about what a smartwatch is really good for.
  • There's no killer app yet.

On that latter point, it's worth emphasizing the "yet" part of the equation. Remember when the iPhone first launched there was no app store. The killer apps -- email and texting -- were already there. Even today messaging and email are the killer smartphone apps.

The iPhone was sold as an iPod that could make calls. Angry Birds, Shazam and a host of other apps came much later in the iPhone's history.

Also:How Apple Watch is changing the way Apple Stores do business | Apple Watch app creation more challenging than it was for iPad, say devs | Have Apple Watch questions? Apple's guided tour videos provide the answers | AppleCare+ for Apple Watch by the numbers: Big potential revenues | Apple Watch: Can it really make interactions more human? | Apple Watch: Perils of the approaching app deluge

Apple's approach with the Apple Watch apps rhyme with the approach taken by Google in new categories. The approach: Here's something potentially cool and now we'll hope developers cook up must-have applications. What if developers don't deliver?

In a short run-through of the Apple Watch, it was clear to me that native apps from Apple run better than third parties, navigation can be an issue and that app icon barrage got to be a bit much on the device. CNET's Stein said that it's best to curb your app expectations on the Apple Watch for now. Stein said:

All third-party Apple apps work by cross-loading an extension onto the watch while an app also lives on the iPhone: this works a bit like Google's Android Wear apps. But it also means these apps are really more like remote phone apps: they tend to load slowly, and seem to be streaming data into the watch. They don't work when the watch is disconnected from your iPhone. There will be native apps that will even work offline, but that capability isn't here yet.

For now, Apple is selling the Apple Watch based in part on fashion. There's a good reason for that since few of us know what a smartwatch is supposed to do.

Over time, there needs to be some real Apple Watch specific use cases. An accessory to the iPhone won't cut it, but will certainly boost the bottom line. For instance, Kulbinder Garcha, an analyst at Credit Suisse, reckons that about 10 percent of the iPhone installed base will definitely buy an Apple Watch. That equates to volume as high as 40 million for calendar 2015, but Garcha is projecting half that.

Here's a look at the base audience for the Apple Watch based on a Credit Suisse survey of 2,229 Apple customers.

credit-suisse-on-apple-watch.png

To land more of that iPhone base into the definite category it would help if there were a killer Apple Watch app that didn't need a smartphone for connectivity.

The reviews are solid, but the Apple Watch is going to build slowly over time with apps as a key accelerant. Like the iOS and Android race, apps are likely to win the smartwatch war. One odd side effect of the Apple Watch is that playing with it made me like Android Wear devices a bit more. If that side effect sticks, Apple may just boost the smartwatch category overall.

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