Apple Watch is about Content Reception (Updated)

My thanks to this week’s sponsor, World Time Widget, an app that puts timezones  in your Today View. Read my full review or why you’ll like it.

Abdel Ibrahim wrote an excellent piece over at WatchAware.com wherein he writes:

From the Watch Face, you are able to see your Glances and notifications. In order to see apps, you have to engage the Digital Crown. This makes it seem pretty obvious that Apple has purposely designed apps not to be front and center like they are on iPhone. Instead, Apple Watch apps are mere repositories where stored information can be pushed to the user in the form of Glances and via Notification Center.

This may sound a little weird, and I think to some of us it is. We’re used to apps being the focal point. But on Apple Watch, on initial waking, they’re not.

Astute observation. The “home state” isn’t the app screen, it’s the watch face. It’s only seems weird because of expectational debt. But there is excellent reason why it differs, and it relates to what Apple Watch uniquely offers the user.

After reading Ibrahim’s piece, I re-watched both Apple Watch demos to see how this bears out in the demo. The contrast between the two demos was striking for how Apple positioned apps & notifications. In the first, the very first thing that Lynch demonstrated was the app screen and in the course of the demo, he opened three different apps from the app screen (Watch, Photos, Maps) while receiving two notifications (Calendar, Message).

In the second demo, Lynch started by saying (time marker 1:08:51):

Using apple watch during the day is really about brief interactions. Most of these are a few seconds long.

Then, despite the fact that Apple had invited 3rd party developers to Apple to work on apps for week prior to the event, Lynch only launched three apps from the app screen (Uber, Shazam, & Alarm.com), each of which did a few simple things. Instead, the keynote was dominated by notifications as Lynch received seven different push notifications during the demo (Wechat, Moves, Phone, Uber, Passbook w/ American Airlines, W hotel, Message).

What’s the point? The Apple Watch demo could have been app-dominated, showing the dozens of apps that Apple had helped developers create, but it wasn’t; it was notification-heavy. More apps were featured in notifications or via Glance than were shown being launched from the app screen.

Rather than a device oriented towards content creation (Mca, iPhone) or content consumption (iPad), Apple Watch is going to be a content reception device. It’s not meant to create or consume content but to receive and display it quickly, easily, and in a deeply human way. Apple Watch was created to receive notifications the way that iPhone is made to run apps.

Update, 4/6, 21:07

I don’t think this notification-centric view of Apple Watch is due to the limitations of the initial SDK, nor do I think it will radically change in the future. Yes, a more powerful SDK, processor, better battery, etc. will allow for incredible use cases–like authentication–that are hard to even fathom now. As powerful and incredible as those actions might be, however, they will still be limited by the form factor and limitations of a wrist-mounted wearable: it’s hard to hold your wrist up for long periods of time; the screen can’t display much content nor contextual controls; it takes two hands to operate Apple Watch (unlike iPhone!); it will take at four steps to launch an app (raise arm, press crown, find app, tap it). Given all of those limitations, using one’s phone will be a superior and, oddly, a more convenient device for any kind of content creation or consumption that takes longer than 30 seconds or so.

Unlike some claim, these limitations don’t mean that Apple Watch is doomed. Rather, it means that the watch will find its greatest value in what makes it uniquely different than the phone, and that is the immediate, visible, and feelable reception of notifications, not the creation or consumption of content.

Other unique abilities of the watch will increase its value in time: fitness tracking (if it is interpretive and not just raw data); contextual display of information (if Apple can accomplish this with their data privacy value & algorithmic weakness); user authentication in IoT (if Apple can build the right partnerships); intimate communication (if enough Watches are sold); and a host of things we can’t now imagine, enabled by robust 3rd party apps.

Yet the greatest value in all of these abilities will be when Apple Watch takes the action for you, serving the right display of information at the right time, so that you don’t need to launch an app.


World Time Widget puts the timezones you choose in your Today Widget, so you can see them at a glance. If you deal with multiple timezones, it is the best and most convenient way to track timezones. Read my full review or why you’ll like it.


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