At a Glance: the first Apple Watch Conference

On December 10th about a hundred people gathered in San Francisco to talk about the Apple Watch at the inaugural Glance Conference—the first Apple Watch conference. Tech luminaries were out in force, including conference organizers Horace Dediu (Asymco), Ben Bajarin (Creative Strategies) and Bernard Desarneauts (Wristly), plus living legend Jean-Louis Gassée and long-time Apple watchers (no pun intended) Jim Dalrymple and Fortune’s Philip Elmer-Dewitt.
What were the big takeaways? Well, the truth is no one’s really sure what to make of the Watch—not even a room full of really smart people.

There’s no really big use case anyone can point to. In fact, my own informal research (i.e. talking to Watch-wearing strangers while in TSA security lines or waiting to board a plane) has revealed that while everybody loves their Watch—Wristly’s research shows a 97% customer satisfaction rating—this love is comprised of a collection of small moments rather than any single use case.
Their love for the Watch is further demonstrated not just by strong sales numbers (more on that in a minute), but by sustained usage numbers inconceivable to anyone else in the wearables world:

  • 86% of owners wear the watch every day all the time.
  • Another 10% say they wear it most days, most of the time.

Compare this to fitness bands—which have an abandon rates greater than 33% (according to Ben Bajarin)—and you realize Apple just might be on to something.
So how is Apple Watch doing? Is it off to a slow start? Horace Dediu and Ben Bajarin provided some good stats. According to Horace, Apple Watch shipments were/are as follows:

  • June quarter: 3M units
  • Sept quarter: 4M units
  • Dec quarter: 8M units (projected; he has heard as high as 12M)
  • March quarter: 6M (Horace’s guess, due in large part to Chinese New Year)

This totals 21M units in the first full year (not to mention those holding-off until the 2nd generation Watch). Ben Bajarin noted a duopoly now exists between Apple and Fitbit though with a huge pricing disparity. Apple has ASPs well over $400 while Fitbits are in the high $80 range. However, Apple’s rapid success hasn’t really “hurt” any of the other players as everyone has seen their shipments rise, even if marginally so.
Bajarin expects that by 2017 Apple will have an installed base of 100M Watches.
Alas, no big use cases for Apple Watch in the Enterprise…yet
Let’s get back to the use case discussion. As I stated earlier, user satisfaction with the Watch seems to stem from many small moments of delight. To a CIO, that’s a pretty hard sell.
Some speakers offered a few “meh” ideas:

  • Tim Bajarin noted an ongoing pilot to use the Watch for Identity Management
  • Health insurance companies might improve rate accuracy by offering stipends for the watch through enterprises to better track employee heath.
  • Ben Bajarin discussed hands-free computing scenarios (one factory worker straps an iPhone to his forearm), though this strikes me as a better fit for Google Glass.
  • Jeff Richards, Partner at GGV Capital, noted their investment in Lucera, a company using the Watch to improve communication between hospital doctors and nurses.

I was hoping Bob Moesta’s Jobs-To-Be-Done technique would uncover some great use cases, but such was not the case.
Perhaps the most insightful comment came from GGV Capital’s Glenn Solomon during the VC Panel:

Value is created when there’s a paradigm shift. So the question is whether Apple Watch is a new paradigm or not. Right now it’s an accessory to the phone. Until it changes or becomes something different, it’s not a true paradigm shift.”

Not the most encouraging statement.
But optimism prevailed: “The killer apps will be fundamentally different than those creating value on the mobile phone,” Solomon added. Much like with the iPhone, Solomon believes, consumer-side successes will determine what makes its way to the enterprise. We just don’t know what those things are going to be yet.
Try to recall how we all felt about the original iPhone—before the SDK, before the App Store. Didn’t seem like there was much there at the time, but we know how that worked out. So if the value of Apple Watch is tied to a lot of little moments—as opposed to killer apps—then Day-in-the-Life assessments and other ethnographic methods are going to be instrumental to uncovering Watch opportunities in the enterprise.
Until then, we’re sticking to our original advice: tap the brakes on Watch app investments.
Design Principles for the Watch
Josh Clark of Big Medium gave a talk about designing for the Watch and offered a couple of valuable insights for anyone building Watch apps:

    • Session Length Should Inform Design: Experiences for each device should be designed in accordance with the average session length. It turns out the size of a device’s screen correlates strongly to the average session length. So don’t just port your iPhone experiences to the Watch screen. Mobile encourages us to simplify; the Watch doubles down on that. If you’re thinking micro-moments on the phone (with an average session length of 32 seconds), you have to think NANO-moments on the Watch (where the average session is 7 seconds). If the usage takes more than 5 seconds, think about making the app more focused.


  • Think Dashboards, Not Apps: As with session length, Watch UI design must also be visually appropriate to the smaller screen. If users are only glancing down for a few seconds, you can’t expect them to read a lot of detailed text. The best experiences will resemble graphical dashboards that enable users to quickly comprehend and digest data visually. The “activity rings” on Apple’s own Activity app are probably the best example.

So is it a hat, a broach or a pterodactyl?
We had our conference. What now?
It’s still an open question what the Watch and similar wearables will become. Every new platform/form factor requires an initial exploratory period. What are the valuable use cases? What are the most effective interface methods? We’re only 9 months into Apple Watch so we can’t expect to have all the answers yet. Let’s be patient.
Personally, I think the key to the Watch’s success will be voice interaction. As elegant as the digital crown and Samsung’s rotating bezel are, there’s still only so much real estate to work with (and our fingers aren’t shrinking). So voice is likely to become the primary input method.
I’ve always found science fiction a great way to envision the use of new tech. Think about how Jean-Luc Picard and others on the Enterprise (NCC 1701-D) would tap their comm badges and ask the “Computer” for an answer. Maybe that’s Watch’s role. And maybe the answers don’t get displayed on the Watch itself, but instead are automatically Airplayed onto the nearest screen. Or maybe the answers get projected directly onto our retinas (ok, maybe now I’m thinking a little too far ahead).
Or maybe Apple Watch fails to evolve into the next mainstream computing platform and ends up being just a fancy novelty. I’m sure that at Glance Conference 2 we’ll know more than we do today (and those answers will raise a whole new set of questions). But hell, if we knew all the answers in advance what fun would any of this be?
If your company would like to discuss ways it might streamline business processes or improve employee satisfaction by incorporating Apple Watch (or any wearable) into its enterprise mobile strategy, give us a call. We’d love to help you identify use cases and better accommodate the nano-moment needs of your user-base.

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