Guess Apple Watch's killer app: Well, usage studies show it isn't email

Two studies have found that Apple Watch isn't yet a platform for third-party apps and that for now it's mostly used as a timepiece.

Swedish researchers studied smartwatch usage by frequency and time in seconds. Image: Mobile Life Research Centre, University of Stockholm

The phone these days may be 'just another app' on the iPhone, but two studies of Apple Watch usage have found the wearable hasn't escaped its basic function as a timekeeper.

One of the new studies, from the Mobile Life Research Centre at the University of Stockholm, took an in-depth look at 12 subjects' usage of an Apple Watch over 34 days, using wearable cameras to monitor their actions, followed by an interview.

The research collected a total of 1,009 incidents of watch use, half of which were to simply check the watch face, accounting for 20 percent of the time spent interacting with the device.

The average time spent per interaction is 3.8 seconds, with participants using the device about six times an hour.

The second most common interaction is to check a notification -- Messenger being the most commonly checked notification -- which accounts for 17 percent of incidents at an average of 9.2 seconds per incident.

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The least frequently used Apple-made apps on the Apple Watch are Phone, Maps and Mail, which collectively account for two percent of total interactions. However, average time spent on Maps is 46.9 seconds, the second longest interaction in the study.

The researchers also found that third-party apps are rarely used, making up only one percent of overall interactions.

Perhaps given its novelty, it isn't surprising that the Apple Watch's primary usage remains telling the time. But as mobile analyst Horace Dediu has noted previously, its ability to move beyond being mostly used as a watch will determine its fate.

"Realizing that on the iPhone the 'phone' is but an app... I consider it safe to say that the iPhone is today not as much a phone as a very personal computer. And so the question is whether the Watch will quickly leave behind its timekeeping anchor and move into being something completely different," Dediu noted recently.

The phone was one of three "tentpoles" of the iPhone at launch, but is today not the foundational feature it once was. As Apple CEO Tim Cook said at the launch of the Watch, a "precise timepiece" is one of its three foundations, along with health and communications.

The Stockholm study broadly matched the findings of separate research by Wristly, which found that participants in its panel-based study use the Apple Watch on average four times five times per hour, roughly equating to an average of 60 to 80 times a day.

Previous studies on smartphone usage have found that most users check their smartphone over 200 times a day.

Wristly also found the Watch is rarely used to make or receive phone calls. But it is also used more frequently for productivity and health apps, although rarely for games and even less often for Apple Pay.

And like the Stockholm study, Wristly's research found that Apple Watch hasn't yet become a platform for third-party apps, with 80 percent of the its panel reporting they do not use any third-party app on a daily basis.

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